What a delicious novel! As a teacher in Lake Wobegon, I knew I was hooked from the first half page, which is a report card from a Seattle school that declares “Galer Street School is a place where compassion, academics, and global connectitude join together to create civic-minded citizens of a sustainable and diverse planet,” and where the only grades are S (Surpasses Excellence), A (Achieves Excellence), and W (Working towards Excellence). Those are just the grade options that many Weston parents would like.
In Where’d You Go, Bernadette, author Maria Semple has crafted a satire on Seattle, Microsoft, family relationships, TED talks, progressive schools, the Russian Mafia, and assorted other topics, woven together into a surprisingly seamless whole. It is structured as a collection of memos, letters, email messages, diary events, and other documents, but somehow it doesn’t feel like that; it feels like a conventional novel, focused on a couple of plot lines and conflicts among the characters. I don’t want to blunder into any spoilers, so I’ll stay away from describing the plot. Suffice it to say that the title character is an agoraphobic former architect whose daughter attends the aforementioned Galer Street School with a report card that’s all S’s. I have no idea whether the satirical portrayals of Seattle and Microsoft are accurate, but those in the know report them as being spot on.
Too many of the novels I read (and like) are deadly serious. This one is just fun…but not frothy. Do read it!