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Where'd You Go, Bernadette: My take on the book [Review & Casting Update!] #book2movies

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom. 
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle--and people in general--has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic. 
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence--creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.

UPDATED from 7/13/2017: 
We learned Cate Blanchett was playing Bernadette back in 2015 and a few months ago we got the word about Kristen Wiig playing Bernadette's intrusive neighbour Audrey. Billy Crudup. Lawrence Fishburne. Judy Greer. I Really Can Not Wait.  With the casting news that Troian Bellisario is on as someone named Becky, "the first person Bernadette encounters in the Antarctica"? all we need now is our Bee! You didn't read the book? Here's why I love it.

I got so excited reading the 2012 best seller, Where'd You Go, Bernadette that I couldn't help telling my husband all about Maria Semple's fabulous fictional heroine, Bernadette, the former architect who won the super prestigious MacArthur Genius award back in the 90's. Bernadette now lives with her husband and 15 year old daughter Bee in Seattle in a former school for unwed mothers she'd intended to remodel but instead had left to go to ruin. She never - or rarely - leaves the house, hates the other parents at her daughter's progressive private school and has all her errands run by an assistant based in India. Which frankly I found really really appealing! Having someone else take care of everything you don't want to deal with, and you don't even really have to deal with them? Heaven! Her husband is a genius too who works for MicroSoft. We know he's a genius because he's given to padding around the office in his stocking feet and he's delivered the fourth most popular TEDTalk ever. 

Disney Corporate Headquarters/Burbank      
Photo credit: DrWhoAnon

I was so enamored of the book I couldn't help telling him the whole sad/funny story, how one of her jobs was working for Michael Graves, the real architect who designed the Disney building down the road from us in Burbank, where Bernadette was charged with designing the mens' room. Another architectural job was being part of the quality control team assigned to assess the beautiful pale travertine marble used to clad the Getty Center. Again the fictional Bernadette worked for the real architect, Richard Meier. I remember being enthralled by the entire construction process back when the museum was first built on a stunning hillside overlooking the 405 in Los Angeles. I also told him how one of her first designs was repurposing a eyeglass factory in Venice and how after weeks of just staring at the boxes of left behind lenses and frames she finally had them knitted together to form walls, screens really. And, of course, the tale of her most famous design, the 20 Mile House which I won't go into just in case you haven't read this wild and wonderful novel yet. That story is just too good to spoil.

The Getty Center/ Los Angeles         
Photo credit: DogMamon

Part of the appeal of Semple's work is that fanciful blending of the real and imaginary; the Forrest Gump approach if you will. There's something so magical and subversive about putting fictional characters in the real world where they interact with important or historical figures; I can't put my finger on what it is that makes it so compelling, I just know it's a kick. The whole book is a kick really, told through a series of pilfered emails and letters and transcribed voice mails that the daughter Bee puts together in book form. 

Part of the appeal is the fresh, crisp writing and the hilarious and snarky outlook Semple gives to her characters; the hilarious insight into modern culture, the immersion into the world of MicroSoft, Bernadette's hatred of the gnats aka the parent body at Bee's school and Seattle's many Canadians in residence had me snickering as did the overly enthusiastic fundraising voice of Ollie O., the school's new principal, and the unforgettable Soo Lin and Audrey. Semple creates such original yet immediately recognizable characters built upon the types most of us know all too well from our own social networks.  

As the title suggests, Bernadette goes missing, but she does so in both real and symbolic ways. At the heart of the book is the beautiful little Bee who loves and appreciates her quirky mother and a not so subtle message; Bernadette is a good wife and fantastic mother BUT she's also an artist who has to create otherwise she'll become 'a menace to society.' When I started telling my son all about the novel too, I realized I better just write up my thoughts to share with you, the kind readers of this blog, one of my little endeavors that keeps me from completely freaking out, retreating from reality and maybe, just maybe, becoming a menace to society too. Just so you know.

Bernadette let life kick her ass and lost her own way along the way; happily Maria Semple  gives us a grand adventure where hopes and dreams can be rerouted. I went absolutely wild for this unusual, funny, and inspiring book and as luck would have it, the novel is bound for moviedom. Remember we talked about that back at the beginning of 2013, with Annapurna's Megan Ellison producing? While Semple could write the screenplay herself - her credits include Arrested Development and Mad About You - at this writing those modern marvels of adaptation, Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter (The Fault in Our Stars, The Spectacular Now, Paper Towns and the original script, 500 Days of Summer) are supposedly writing the screenplay. I REALLY hope this comes to pass, I really can't wait to see the remarkable 20 Mile House brought to life by a genius production designer in her own right.

Can't wait to see Bernadette there! 


UPDATED: 3/7/2015 (originally published 10/14/2014)

I hope this comes to pass! The screenplay is complete and Boyhood director Richard Linklater is in talks to direct. He would be an amazing choice! If you've seen Boyhood, you know that while it's about a boy, it's also about mothers and about fathers and about life. He really knows people, and their mangled efforts at relationships. While Boyhood has catapulted Linklater into the national consciousness, he's been working at his craft since the late 1980's. Note to self: Be sure to check out Before Sunrise and Before Sunset before re-watching Before Midnight again.


  1. I really, really enjoyed reading this book the first time around. And then I found, much to my surprise, that when I listened to the audio book about two years later, it moved me on a much deeper level. I ended up LOVING this book. The emotion of the book escaped me the first time around 'cause I was caught up in the black humor of it all. Listening to it and really taking my time with the characters changed my opinion.

  2. DId you just flesh out an older post? I apparently left a comment back in OCtober but I don't remember all of the above...

    I am tremendously excited about seeing this film.

    Do you have any scuttlebutt about Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk? I just read in a bookseller daily email that Steve Martin has been cast in it but I figured you'd know MORE!

    1. I updated the original Where'd You Go Bernadette post with the news that Linklater may direct; you might have missed the Update note, it's toward the bottom:) Thanks for the question about Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. I do know a teensy bit more, Steve Martin has been cast in it, as you say, but may have scheduling issues and have to bow out. The film is being directed by Ang Lee (Life of Pi, Brokeback Mountain) who has cast a newcomer in the titular role, a young actor named Joe Alwyn—this is his very first feature film. Also kind of exciting if you're a Garret Hedlund fan (Pan, Unbroken, On the Road) he's going to play the leader of the squad, Sergeant Dime? Now here's my question for you; judging from your response you're a fan of the book, yes? Because generally Iraq war stories aren't my cup of tea so this one skipped right by me. But the idea of Steve Martin's involvement does pique my interest so I'm hoping he finds a way to stick around IF you tell me I ought to give the book a try. Which it sounds like you will. I'll probably write this up as a post in the next couple of days.If you've written a review I'd love to either link to it or post it in its entirety; either way, Emily, I'd link back to you.

    2. Yeah, this was a book that I loved. The author also happens to be a terrific person, sort of a fierce mind with a gentle soul.

      While there are several flashbacks about actual wartime, nearly all of the book takes place during a Dallas Cowboys game (hence the title) and is much more a critique of war and how the poor and the disenfranchised are the people who fight America's wars, for the most part. It also makes uncomfortable comparisons of war as entertainment in the modern age.


    3. Actually, scratch that. I did an updated post that is slightly more coherent and cohesive: http://asthecrowefliesandreads.blogspot.com/2013/03/billy-lynns-long-half-time-walk-by-ben.html#comment-form

    4. Thanks! I'll definitely include the link with my write-up. Also I just started reading the Nook sample last night; it was so late I couldn't read more than the first few pages but I can already tell how terrific it is!


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