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Book Review: Spokane Is Reading book selection spiced with NW satire
9/26/2013 11:52:31 AM

By Daniel Pringle

Liberty Lake Municipal Library

Bernadette Fox is hiding from life. She has outsourced daily tasks to an assistant in India she only contacts by email. She never gets out of her car when picking up her daughter, Bee, at school, let alone participates in fundraisers or other school activities. Once a promising architect, she now lives in a dilapidated home in Seattle with blackberries growing through the floorboards and pots catching water from the leaking roof. When Bee gets a perfect report card, the family begins to plan the trip to Antarctica she was promised, and Bernadette plots getting out of it. 

"Where'd You Go, Bernadette" unfolds in a series of documents-emails between Bernadette and her assistant, between neighbors and parents, blog posts, an emergency room bill-stitched together with Bee's explanatory text. It ramps up to a crisis involving a mudslide ruining a neighbor's house, dubious vehicular assault, an affair, a psychiatric intervention, and a visit from the FBI. Confronted, Bernadette disappears.

Bernadette's troubles are serious, but author Maria Semple's satirical tone highlights the outlandish and absurd. She particularly skewers the Pacific Northwest, mocking the Microsoft set, Seattle's faux-populist elite, even the politeness of Canadians and the existence of Idahoans. Behind the attitude, though, is an affecting story of a husband and wife rediscovering each other, a daughter growing up to see her parents as people, and a woman healing from the past and facing the future. The book is the 2013 Spokane Is Reading selection, and the author will hold two events in the area on Oct. 10.

Daniel Pringle is adult services and reference librarian at the Liberty Lake Municipal Library.