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Literature / Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

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A novel (as made clear by the subtitle) by Maria Semple about a woman living in Seattle who disappears two days before Christmas as her family is preparing to travel to Antarctica.

It is mostly an Epistolary Novel, compiled from emails, letters, and invoices sent among the main characters, with a few scenes conventionally narrated in first person by Bernadette's teenage daughter Bee.

A movie adaptation was released on August 16, 2019.

This novel provides examples of the following:

  • A-Cup Angst: Bee is about as far from angst as you'll ever see in a teenager, but she is annoyed that she hasn't grown breasts.
  • Bargain with Heaven: Bernadette swore to God that she would renounce her architectural visions if Bee survived, which was odd because she was an atheist.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Bernadette's neighbor Audrey wants Bernadette to clear all the blackberry bushes from the hillside that rises above Audrey's house. Bernadette does, during the rainiest winter in a very rainy city...
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  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Bernadette and Paul Jellinek, from two different cities, about something that happened 20 years ago, over email.
  • Brutal Honesty: Whereas everyone else sees Bernadette as a victim, Paul Jellinek calls her out for Tempting Fate and thus indirectly contributing to the Huge Hideous Thing that happened to her.
  • The Cameo:
    • One of the "epistles" in the book was a blog entry by Cliff Mass, a weatherman that Bee and Bernadette like. Cliff Mass is, in fact, an actual weatherman in Seattle with a blog.
    • Buzz Aldrin makes an appearance as well.
  • Catchphrase:
    Bernadette: "You little rotter."
    Ollie-O: "REAL-TIME ⚡ FLASH!"
  • Chekhov's Gun: Audrey Griffin's emergency room bill from when she pretended that Bernadette ran over her feet had a line item for Vicodin tablets, and a note explaining that she was in hysterics and demanded the drug among other things. A few weeks later her son Kyle was caught with the empty bottle of Vicodin in school, implied to have taken or sold the tablets.
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  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Nigel Mills-Murray, who surrepetitiously bought and demolished Bernadette's Twenty Mile House.
  • Cranky Neighbor: Bernadette and Audrey Griffin are this to each other.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Audrey's son Kyle, who is a poor student and troublemaker at school, is a talented computer hacker.
  • Drama Queen: Audrey Griffin takes it Up to Eleven. Bernadette would probably be considered one in another story, but she seems positively laid back compared to Audrey.
  • Dumpster Dive: Bernadette did this a lot when building the Twenty-Mile House.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Bee's real first name is Balakrishna.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Audrey Griffin and Soo-Lin don't believe that anyone would want to opt out of getting Galen Street School email announcements, and that Elgin must have been Obfuscating Stupidity when he claimed he didn't know about the hillside collapsing on Audrey Griffin's house while a school event was being held there, which was announced by email.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Audrey Griffin decides she's gone too far when she learns that Bernadette is about to be committed, in part thanks to her lies. She then helps Bernadette escape.
  • Helicopter Parents: In spades. Averted only by the mother of Bee's friend Kennedy.
  • Hollywood Hacking: Averted. Although the ease in which Kyle Griffin was able to remotely hack into Soo-Lin's account at Microsoft may have been exaggerated (or may not have been), he used mostly realistic hacking methods.
  • Ill Girl: Subverted; everyone thinks of Bee as a sickly child because of her premature birth and heart condition as a baby, and its mild lingering effects, but she and her cardiologist think she's perfectly healthy.
  • Kubrick Stare: Discussed by Bee's parents, who call a face she makes at them her Kubrick face.
  • Little Miss Snarker: Bee, mostly when narrating.
  • MacGyvering: Bernadette uses trash and abandoned industrial parts as raw materials to build her two houses, the Beeber Bifocal House and the Twenty Mile House.
  • Madden Into Misanthropy: What has happened to Bernadette
  • Missing Mom: Kind of a Foregone Conclusion.
  • Mood Whiplash: Bernadette writes a very, very snarky email to Paul Jellinek, in which she describes her dissatisfaction with her life in Seattle in hilarious detail, when she suddenly starts writing about her miscarraiges. After that, she goes right back to the snarking.
  • Old, Dark House: Bernadette and family live in one. It was formerly a school for delinquent girls, where it was rumored they were forced to have abortions.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Detective Driscoll provides some oblivious tone-deaf lines when Bernadette is about to be committed.
  • Reference Overdosed: The novel is loaded with commercial and technological references to things considered trendy in the 2010 timeframe.
  • Retired Badass: Bernadette is considered one of the world's most influential architects, but she withdrew to Seattle when her masterpiece home in Los Angeles was demolished.
  • Seattle
  • Take That!: Bernadette's emails absolutely skewer Seattle.
  • Theme Naming: Several children are named after U.S. presidents; this is most likely the author mocking Seattle parents.
  • Tough Love: After years of doting on Kyle, Audrey Griffin finally comes to terms with the fact that he's a drug-dealing, drug-abusing, computer hacker, and sends him to a immersion rehab camp that dumped him and several other boys in the middle of the desert and left them to their own survive for a week.
  • Tropaholics Anonymous: Soo-Lin is in a member of a support group called Victims Against Victimhood, which she details in her letters to Audrey.
  • Unusual User Interface: Samantha 2, the project Elgin is working on, is a device that allows a person to control a robot just by thinking.
  • Workaholic: Elgin, although it was partly was because he didn't want to deal with Bernadette's rants.


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