Where’d You Go, Bernadette Summary

Maria Semple

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette Summary

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Whered You Go, Bernadette is a 2012 comedic epistolary novel by American author Maria Semple. An agoraphobic architect and mother named Bernadette Fox goes missing just before a family trip to Antarctica, and the chaos that erupts in the aftermath is narrated by her fifteen-year-old daughter Bee Branch. The novel is told through a series of documents, including emails, memos, and transcripts, as well as occasional personal interludes from Bee. Exploring themes of abandonment, anxiety, and complex familial relationships, Whered You Go, Bernadette debuted to overwhelming critical acclaim, spending a full year on the New York Times Bestseller List and winning the Alex Award from the American Library Association in 2013. It was also shortlisted for the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction. A film adaptation is currently in development and is to be directed by Oscar-nominated director Richard Link later and star Cate Blanchett as Bernadette.

Whered You Go, Bernadette begins in the aftermath of Bernadette’s disappearance, as her teenage daughter Bee gathers correspondence in an attempt to discover what happened to her mother. Bee traces the beginning of the incident to her acceptance to the elite private school Choate Rosemary Hall, which her mother also attended. As a reward, Bee convinces her agoraphobic stay-at-home mother and her computer genius father Elgin to take her to Antarctica. Bernadette reluctantly agrees and hires a personal assistant in India to plan the trip. Bernadette has an ongoing feud with some of the other mothers at Bee’s private school, especially her neighbor Audrey Griffin. Their feud stems from Audrey falsely accusing Bernadette of running her foot over with her car. There was also an incident where Audrey demanded that vines be removed from Bernadette’s property, which later allowed a mudslide to nearly destroy Audrey’s home. Bee discovers that her mother was once a famous architect who won the MacArthur Genius Grant for creating a locally designed house. However, after winning, she sold the house to a neighbor, who destroyed it out of spite. This caused Bernadette to leave the area and move to Seattle. Bee also learns her mother had four miscarriages before Bee’s birth.

Later, a friend of Audrey’s, Soo-Lin Lee-Segal, goes to work for Elgin at Microsoft. She tells him stories about Bernadette supposedly attacking Audrey, which convinces Elgin his wife may be mentally unstable. He considers committing Bernadette to a mental hospital, and has an affair with Soo-Lin. The FBI also contacts him to let him know that Manjula, Bernadette’s “assistant”, is actually a Russian scammer trying to get a hold of their financial information. Elgin attempts to stage an intervention for Bernadette, but the intervention coincides with the FBI and police showing up at the house. Bernadette, overwhelmed and feeling attacked, excuses herself, goes to the bathroom—and vanishes. In the aftermath, Bee is sent to Choate early as Elgin focuses on finding his wife. Soo-Lin reveals to Audrey that she’s pregnant with Elgin’s baby and intends to move in with him. Elgin soon finds out that Bernadette took the trip to Antarctica on her own. He and Soo-Lin travel there to confront her, but she disappears before they can. Soo-Lin tells Audrey that both she and Elgin regret the affair and that she’s miserable.

At Choate, Bee receives a package that contains the correspondence the reader has seen so far. She discovers her father planned to have her mother hospitalized, and it was Audrey who helped Bernadette escape and exposed the affair. She’s known everything but stayed silent, waiting to speak to Elgin and Bee privately. She was the one who sent the correspondence to Bee. Bee’s obsession with putting together a manuscript about her mother based on the correspondence leads to her getting kicked out of Choate. At home, she guilts her father into taking her to Antarctica to find closure, although she still believes her mother is alive and living there. She learns of Palmer Station, an American base where scientists work. In Antarctica, she steals a boat and finds her mother at the station. Bernadette is shocked to find out that her family thought she was dead. She sent them a letter telling them where she was. Returning to her old school, Bee finds the missing letter in the correspondence. Bernadette went to Antarctica hoping to meet her husband and daughter there when they arrived on the cruise. She found out about an architectural project at Palmer Station that spoke to her and would be a true test of her talents. She snuck on board the station, and sent the letter to Bee, asking for her blessing, promising to return home if she didn’t get it.

Maria Keogh Semple is an American novelist and screenwriter. A prolific and successful TV writer, she has written for popular shows over a twenty-years-plus career, including Saturday Night Live, Arrested Development, Beverly Hills 90210, and Ellen. She is the author of three novels, This One is Mine (2008), Whered You Go, Bernadette (2012), and the recently released Today Will Be Different (2016). All three were critically acclaimed. She has also taught writing classes at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle.