Tag Archives: this one is mine

WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple

If I had a dollar for everyone who had recommended Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple to me… well, I’d have a nice little pile of dollars. Has there been a more glowingly received book than Semple’s latest novel? Not that I can recall.


I wasn’t a huge fan of Semple’s earlier book, This One Is Mine, so I avoided Bernadette for quite a while, politely smiling when yet another friend recommended it but making no serious moves to get it. I gave in a few weeks ago when I saw it on audio and in paper at the library at the same time, a rare occurrence that necessitated no holds and allowed me to leave with both in hand, ready to pop the CD in the car. As it turns out, I read it in paper (too little time in the car alone), finally curious enough about those good reviews to give it a chance.

My verdict? I liked it, but I didn’t love it as much as everyone else did.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is about Bernadette Fox, a middle-aged architect in Seattle who has fled north from Los Angeles after an admittedly heartbreaking incident at a groundbreaking house that she designed and built. Fox, a Macarthur genius grant winner, hates Seattle with a passion, but she is so afraid to face her former self that she lives there in exile, cursing its residents and withdrawing further into agoraphobia. After a rather spectacular flameout, she simply disappears. Fox’s husband Elgin is a superstar at Microsoft, and her daughter Bee is a precocious 8th grader at a precious school “where compassion, academics and global connectitude join together to create civic-minded citizens of a sustainable and diverse planet”.

That quote should give you an idea of Semple’s humor (she’s also a TV comedy writer). Semple makes fun of so much in Bernadette – TED Talks, Microsoft, helicopter parenting, private schools, Seattle in general – and her barbs are spot-on without going over the top. The book is written in a number of formats – emails, doctor’s reports, narrative, live blogs, articles, etc. – which makes the reading quick and entertaining. But there is also a lot of pain under the surface of the book. Bernadette loves her daughter intensely, which makes her shortcomings as a mother even sadder. She wants to do best for Bee, but she just can’t overcome the creative baggage that paralyzes her. And Bee and Elgin love Bernadette too, but Elgin is pushed to the limits of his emotional and financial patience by Bernadette’s shenanigans, and ultimately cracks under the weight of that pressure.

What I didn’t love about Bernadette: it went too far. There was a point about 2/3 through where it went from funny and vaguely realistic to farce. At that point, I just wanted to finish the book. I still laughed every now and again, but it had lost its power for me. I found myself skimming the Antarctica section – way too long – and feeling nostalgic for the first half of the book. Bernadette was a sympathetic character, but she became too much of a caricature for me.

The one part that really got me, though, was when Bee was talking to her father about their missing mother/wife, and she told him that while he was logging the long hours at Microsoft, “me and Mom were having the best, funnest time ever, Mom and I lived for each other.” Great reminder that motherhood isn’t about being perfect (or even capable, it would appear), but something far more complex.

So… this one was OK for me. I was kind of disappointed given the reviews, but I also went in with a bit of a bad attitude.

April Book Club: THIS ONE IS MINE by Maria Semple

The April EDIWTB book club selection was This One Is Mine, by Maria Semple.

Semple I am having trouble deciding how I feel about this book. I'll start with the plot: it's about Violet and David Parry, a very rich married couple living in LA. Violet is a former TV writer and now stay-at-home mom with a one-year old daughter, and David is her remote and prone-to-criticize music producer husband. They are drowning in money, but have grown apart and alienated from each other. Violet gets involved with Teddy, a very sketchy man she meets during this period of alienation from David - an entanglement with some unexpected consequences. David's sister, Sally, is a ballet instructor in her late thirties and so desperate to get married that she gets engaged to a man she doesn't really know or understand, simply because his career is skyrocketing, but it doesn't bring her the fulfillment she seeks.

The other main character in this book is the city of Los Angeles, for This One Is Mine is really a satire of modern life in LA. (There's even a hand-drawn map of LA in the beginning of the book for readers who may not know where Mulholland Drive is compared to Wilshire Blvd. or the 405.) Semple, a former TV writer herself (including for my beloved Arrested Development), is quite adept at skewering the rich and aimless by revealing the ways they spend their money and time (fancy weddings; yoga sweat lodge retreats; the Hermes store). Most of the characters in this book are some combination of self-absorbed, materialistic, vengeful or desperate, and even if they have their redeeming moments, Semple's deft slash-and-burn makes for some powerful mockery.

But this book isn't always a satire. Sometimes it is instead a straightforward depiction of flawed characters who are motivated by all the wrong things. And for me, that's when the book was less successful, and bordered on implausible. I didn't need these characters to be likable, but I did need to understand them, to feel that what they were doing was consistent or at least explainable. And I couldn't always do that. Most often, my complaints had to to with Teddy and his inexplicable hold on all who came in his orbit. By the end of the novel, even David seemed under his spell. And yet, I saw almost nothing redeeming about him.  

This One Is Mine is a unique book – unpredictable and difficult to categorize. I am glad I read it, and expect that it will stay with me for a while. But I can't say that I loved it. A lot of the time, I felt sort of confused by it. I found this review of This One Is Mine by Miss Meliss on Bibliotica, and I really agreed with it. Like Miss Meliss, I suspect that a lot of people will enjoy this book (and judging by the Amazon reviews, a lot of people did). For me, it was interesting and had its high points, but it didn't work on every level.

I'm really looking forward to hearing what EDIWTB readers have to say about This One is Mine!

April Book Club: THIS ONE IS MINE by Maria Semple

I am pleased to announce the EDIWTB book club for April – This One Is Mine, by Maria Semple. Thanks to Hachette, I have a number of copies of This One Is Mine to give away to readers who would like to participate in the book club.

Here's some info about the book from Amazon:

Semple Former television producer and writer Semple bashes Hollywood celebrity, New Age nonsense and struggling relationships in this smart and funny debut. Violet Parry, who puts aside a TV writing career to have a baby and take care of the sumptuous L.A. home of her legendary impresario hubby, David, scratches a seven-year itch with D-list rocker Teddy Reyes. Yet Violet is hardly ready for the roller-coaster ride with a man who thinks only "about my rent and my car and getting laid and staying sober." Meanwhile, David's conniving sister, Sally, sets out to snag a rich husband, training her sights on Jeremy, a robotic sports-stats genius with a promising TV career. In one of the most hilarious sendups of New Age claptrap, David figures out if he's willing to stick around to see where Violet's wild ride will take them. Semple's takes are tack sharp as her delightful cast is driven comically and tragically ever deeper into a culture of artifice. Semple obviously knows her turf, and she does an exquisite job of stomping all over it.

You can read more about This One Is Mine at Nicole's review on Linus's Blanket, who says the book is "highly recommended". She concludes, "This book and its characters are memorable ones and they still continue to stick with me and come to the top of my list of books that I recommend, especially if you like great characterizations and drama. It had a bit of mystery as well because I wanted to see how they would all end out and there were a variety of possibilities that I would have been okay with, which is nice." 

Deb at Just Short of Crazy says that "Maria Semple writes with comic brilliance in this smart, compassionate, wickedly funny take on our need for more–and the sometimes disastrous choices we make in the name of happiness."

If you'd like to participate in the book club for This One Is Mine, send me an email at gweiswasser@gmail.com with the following information, single-spaced, by Friday March 19:

Name

Address

Email address

Once the books are mailed out, I will set a date that gives everyone enough time to read it.

Looking forward to the book, and thank you Hachette!

THIS ONE IS MINE by Maria Semple

Maria Semple, the author of This One Is Mine, sent me two copies of the book – one for me and one for a giveaway. From Amazon, here's what it's about:

Semple Former television producer and writer Semple bashes Hollywood celebrity, New Age nonsense and struggling relationships in this smart and funny debut. Violet Parry, who puts aside a TV writing career to have a baby and take care of the sumptuous L.A. home of her legendary impresario hubby, David, scratches a seven-year itch with D-list rocker Teddy Reyes. Yet Violet is hardly ready for the roller-coaster ride with a man who thinks only "about my rent and my car and getting laid and staying sober." Meanwhile, David's conniving sister, Sally, sets out to snag a rich husband, training her sights on Jeremy, a robotic sports-stats genius with a promising TV career. In one of the most hilarious sendups of New Age claptrap, David figures out if he's willing to stick around to see where Violet's wild ride will take them. Semple's takes are tack sharp as her delightful cast is driven comically and tragically ever deeper into a culture of artifice. Semple obviously knows her turf, and she does an exquisite job of stomping all over it.

Kristen from Books for Breakfast calls This One Is Mine is "a huge satiric view of the helL.A. lifestyle. If you read the book, keep that in mind. It is not a romance, it is not killer-funny. The characters are sad shells of human beings, where one is judged on the ability to spot a fake Hermes bag…. Despite my few gripes, I held this book in my hand for a day and read it during every spare moment."

Presenting Lenore picked up this book because Semple was a writer for Arrested Development (also one of my favorite shows!) and enjoyed the book: "True to the Arrested Development mold, Violet, Sally and most of the supporting characters are extremely egocentric, make very bad decisions and are not the type of people you would ever want as friends. But somehow, you do end up caring about what happens to them. And yes, there are many absurdly funny scenes."

The Book Zombie says: "This One Is Mine, is hard-edged chick-lit with lots of sex, cussing and downright dirty behaviour. This book doesn’t present any great messages on life, or teach you the values of morality. However, it will entertain. It’s a mixture of darker Desperate Housewives, lighter Jackie Collins with a twist of black comedy."

Would you like to read This One Is Mine? Leave me a comment here (and be sure to include your email address). I will pick a name at random on Friday, August 14. Good luck!