Where’d You Go, Bernadette? To the End of the Earth!

Ok, if you've read the book you understand the symbol for this last section.  Think wisdom teeth - funny that Bernadette had to have hers out just as she's gaining perspective. No?

Ok, if you’ve read the book you understand the symbol for this last section. Think wisdom teeth – funny that Bernadette had to have hers out just as she’s gaining perspective. No?

Well it’s July 1st and a hot and humid day here on Long Island.  How appropriate that we end at the South Pole.

I have so many thoughts and a few questions for you.

Discussing the book with a friend we talked about Bernadette and Elgie and what the future holds for their marriage.  The book ends with a letter to Bee from Bernadette telling her that she’s going to stay at the Pole for a bit but then is coming home to lead a more normal life as a family.  Do you think that’s possible? My friend was left to wonder how Bernadette will react to the pregnancy of Soo-Lin.  I think that Bernadette is in such a much better place and is more powerful and clear that she’ll take it in stride.  What do you think?  Given her struggles to have a child how do you think Bernadette will react?

What about Elgie – does he truly love Bernadette for who she is?  Has he taken off his Microsoft glasses and reviewed why he loved her in the first place?

We were also discussing the fact that Elgie wanted to put Bernadette away for treatment. Oddly enough, and in true Bernadette extreme fashion, she ends up putting herself away. Why do you think her excursion to the South Pole was so therapeutic?

Some of the discussion questions provided by the publisher mention that people have commented that this is really Bee’s story.  What do you think?

Lastly, I hope that you enjoyed the book.  I did.  I also loved that a book so silly and seemingly uncomplicated offered so much to discuss.

Please let me know what you thought, and join me for our next novel – The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Elgin and Soo-Lin

debtEveryone thinks so highly of Elgin Branch.   I got to the point that if one more character mentioned the TEDTalk I would scream.  Oh OK not really but….

Soo-Lin is smitten and even Dr. Kurtz when she finally meets him is enthralled by his notoriety.

What do you think of Elgie?  Why do you think that he was so intent on having Bernadette put on an involuntary hold?  

Now let’s talk about the Soo-Lin/Elgie liason.

As the book progresses it seems as though Soo-Lin and Elgie have fallen in love only then to find out via the faxes between Soo-Lin and Audrey that their liaison was a very awkward and unsatisfying one night stand that occurred at a very low point for Elgie.

Why do you think Maria Semple formatted the revelation in this manner?

Soo-Lin writes to Audrey about victimization.  Semple has written the novel in such a way that the lines between victim and victimized are blurred.  If there are true victims in the novel, who do you think it is?

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? – Feral Sailor

bunnyWe’re coming to the end of the book and the discussion, but I’ve been pondering a section that we’ve already passed.  I just can’t get it out of my mind and I wonder if any of you feel the same.

In the letter dated Monday December 13 from Mom to Paul Jellinek (page 122 in the hardcover edition.) At the end of the letter Bernadette wraps it up by reminiscing about her bet bunny Sailor.  She went to camp, her parents went away and the maid robbed them and ran off leaving Sailor alone for two months. On Bernadette’s return she ran to him to ensure he was alive.

” He was backed into the corner, shivering, and in the most wretched condition…”

Bernadette “opened the cage door to hug little Sailor, but, in a spastic fury, he started scratching my face and neck.  I still have the scars. without anyone attending to him, he had gone feral. That’s what’s happened to me, in Seattle. Come at me, even in love, and I’ll scratch the hell out of you.”

Why do you think that Bernadette went “feral” in Seattle?  Has someone abandoned her or is she to blame?

 

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Discussion Questions Take 2

where'd you goI’m conflicted about the character Paul Jellinek.  He’s considered a mentor and confidante of Bernadette’s but I don’t think his character is as simple and removed from Bernadette as he would like to be.  On page 122 in the hardcover Bernadette begins a letter (sneaky how Semple manages to let us hear from Bernadette this way – no?) to Paul where we find out a little bit about what she has been dealing with since the destruction of the Twenty-Mile house.  She bares her soul to him about how devastating that was and how she suffered four miscarriages and then is blessed with a daughter who wasn’t expected to survive her underdeveloped heart. His response to her:

“Are you done?  You can’t honestly believe any of this nonsense.  People like you must create.  If you don’t create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society.”

Is it a guy thing?

Is it an architect thing?

What do you think of Paul – friend, adviser, confidante, mentor, symbolic representation of the male dominated architectural establishment?

Just for the fun of it here’s a link to a letter from Paul to Maria Semple.

Where’d You Go Bernadette – Discussion Questions (Spoiler Alert)

where'd you goI hope that you are enjoying the book.  Let’s start with the first section – Part One Mom Versus  the Gnats.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is told from the point of view of a daughter trying to find her missing mother. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story from Bee’s perspective? What light does it shed on the bond between Bernadette and Bee?

Maria Semple has written the novel not only from Bee’s perspective but has also added other forms of communication emails, letters, notes, and official documents.  Why do you think Ms. Semple chose to write in this way?  Do you think that it benefited the novel?  Why?

It’s clear that Bernadette thinks little of Seattle and its inhabitants, but even less of the parents of  Galler Street (gnats.)  Her dislike is clear but do you wonder if “The lady doth protest too much?”

 While there seems to be two versions of the incident in which Audrey’s foot is run over by Bernadette’s car, which do you think is the most accurate? What was Semple’s purpose in placing this event at the beginning of the novel?

We’ve learned quite a bit about Bernadette and her idiosyncratic behavior, Bee and her health issues, Audrey the nightmare neighbor, Seattle and even those pesky blackberry bushes, but little about Elgie.  Why don’t we know much about him other than his importance at Microsoft?  

Keep reading and let us all know what you think?

Author Information – Maria Semple

maria semple

Ms. Semple has included her bio on her website.

There is some terrific information about and by Maria Semple on the website Red Room.

For more wit and wisdom and an insight into how she thinks read the New York Times article “A Novel Asks Seattle to Laugh at Itself” by Julie Bosman.

The Jericho Public Library subscribes to a database “Biography in Context” that offers a substantial biography of Ms. Semple.  You can access this database via the Jericho Public Library website. Visit jericholibrary.org, click on the “Databases” tab and then click on “Adults.”  You can find the database either on the A-Z listing or click on the link for BiographyYou will then need to enter your Jericho Public Library barcode (all fourteen numbers with no spaces.)

A summary from the above database about Maria Semple:

  • Born May 21, 1964, in Los Angeles, CA; daughter of Lorenzo Semple, Jr. (a television writer and producer); partner of George Meyer; children: one daughter.
  • Education: Graduated from Barnard College.
  • Screenwriter for television series, including Beverly Hills 90210, Ellen, Saturday Night Live, Mad about You, Suddenly Susan, and Arrested Development.
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette has been optioned for a feature film.
  • Writer, television screenwriter, movie screenwriter, and novelist.
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette was named one of the ten best fiction books of 2012, Time.