Maria Semple's "Where'd You Go, Bernadette?" & Wild Mushroom Risotto

Maria Semple's "Where'd You Go, Bernadette?" & Wild Mushroom Risotto

What does it mean to go missing? That is the question at the heart of Maria Semple’s entertaining 2012 novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Over the course of some 350 pages, a series of paper and electronic means of correspondence chronicle the events that lead to and result from Bernadette Fox’s sudden and unexpected disappearance from her home in Seattle. Though clunky at times, this method allows Semple to create caricatures of the absurd Pacific Northwesterners who comprise this narrative.

Where'd Yo Go Bernadette? CoverBernadette Fox is the confused mother of Bee (Balakrishna) Branch, a genius only child whose dream it is to take an Antarctic cruise with her parents before heading off to the East Coast for prep school. Her husband, Elgin Branch is a genius himself, having invented a mind-reading robot while at Microsoft. The supporting cast includes such insufferable individuals as a virtual personal assistant from India, a pesky neighbor whose main gripe with Bernadette is her refusal to hold hands and sing Kumbaya with the other school moms, and the neighbor’s sidekick, who switches allegiances when she falls in love with Elgin after Bernadette’s disappearance. In the character development, Semple’s pedigree as a writer forArrested Development becomes clear; in her novel, the people lack self-awareness to the same degree as those in the show. And to great effect.

Bernadette herself is an enigma. Having abandoned a soaring architecture career when she hit some turbulence, she now seems to regret following her husband to a new job at Microsoft. Through her, Semple subtly questions the burdens of genius, the transformation of motherhood and even the ability of affluent women to fall back on their husbands’ financial support when they lose inspiration. Due to the lighthearted tone, it is at times difficult to see that Semple — intentionally or not — has introduced such issues into the text. Regardless, they are there, all contributing to the circumstances of Bernadette’s Houdini act.

For the rest of the review and the recipe for wild Amushroom risotto inspired by this book, visit PAPER/PLATES:

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