At first I thought that this book was word salad in the way that The English Patient was. I stuck with it, though, and the seemingly gratuitous use of...moreAt first I thought that this book was word salad in the way that The English Patient was. I stuck with it, though, and the seemingly gratuitous use of imagery became meaningful as the story progressed. A story about a woman grasping for human connection. Lovely. Definitely worth a re-read. (less)
**spoiler alert** Where'd You Go, Bernadette, is indeed a novel about a bunch of Seattle one-percenters, their first-world problems, and their petty d...more**spoiler alert** Where'd You Go, Bernadette, is indeed a novel about a bunch of Seattle one-percenters, their first-world problems, and their petty drama. I can see why one may feel fairly non-plussed, as Bernadette would say (first and second definitions), about the so-called problems in this satirical (?) novel. I can even see why one might feel disgust, frustration, or anger. I, however, find it not only fascinating, but useful and enlightening to examine the behavior of people in their particular settings and circumstances and with their particular class backgrounds. Anthropological, even. Actually, political, if we're being totally honest, but I'm not sure how relevant that is to this review. I put a question mark after satirical because, well, I think it is and it isn't. It's purported to be. I suppose I could imagine it being sort of Modern Family-esque, although the main characters just didn't quite get to the point of being clownish. Bernadette and Bee are likeable protagonists (I liked them anyway), and we really do end on a touching and inspiring note with Bee finding her mother and Bernadette designing again. What's-her-face-Griffin and Soo-Lin do feel rather caricaturey and basically the entire plot around them and Galer street is satirical, but it seems to me that Maria Semple felt sort of ambivalent about whether to satirize the “liberal” Seattle elite, or whether to say, well, they're just people in the end and any sort of critique is just for laughs; there's nothing really wrong with being an elitist, racist, snob. (If there is, that's their problem! We feel sorry for their spiritually-depraved souls! America is based on individuality! They should go to a meditation retreat, damn it, where they can learn to be kind and start feeling compassion for hoodlums with teddy bears with bloody tampon strings pinned to the back of their hoodies.).....They are just people, living in their particular place and time, in their particular class circumstances, but in the end, in order to be rich, other people, somewhere else, must be poor, so laughing at their ridiculousness, their self-centeredness but identifying with them in the end, well, it's problematic and disturbing. The last question in the readers' guide in the back of the book is “Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a story about a woman who disappears, both literally and figuratively....Do you feel Bernadette's disappearance was unique, or do all women, in a sense, disappear into motherhood and marriage?” Yes! Thank you! The patriarchy in this story was particularly stunning.* Elgin, “Elgie,” basically does what he would be doing without a wife or daughter. He works a million hours a week at MS (Microsoft), lets his wife make all the decisions for the family, (except letting her leave Seattle, of course), and has earned the resentment of his only child for the age-old crime of never being around. In almost all of his interactions with people other than Bernadette and Bee, he is basically rude and entitled, but I think we're supposed to find him charming. Also! He has the fourth-most-popular TED Talk! Vomit. Talk about a stage for the privileged to make some sort of statement about “progress” so that Cameron Diaz and Al Gore can feel better about themselves. He basically bullies a (female) psychiatrist into doing an intervention with his wife, who, as we the readers can see, is totally lucid and completely harmless, which is also clear to Bee and maybe would have been clear to Elgie if he had been around more. But why would he think Bernadette needed an intervention in the first place? Well, let's harken back to college when we read Charlotte Perkins Gilman's “The Yellow Wallpaper” where the protagonist, a housebound wife, goes insane from boredom and monotony and tries to claw her way out of her room that she comes to believe has trapped her. But this is different, you protest! Bernadette and Elgie are LIBERALS. It's the 21st century! They live in Seattle! And yet, you cannot deny the similarities. Elgie may not confine Bernadette to wifedom and motherhood by explicit orders, but we have devised more subconscious ways to do that now. See, you put this bandaid on your forehead....But seriously, it is a little bit like that stupid demonstration where the robot makes popcorn and then vacuums it up (ha, of course that's what a man would make her do). Ok, here are just some of the more obvious and immediate factors that go into Bernadette's proverbial prison. The first is motherhood. We all know it's a burden. It was nice that our mothers tried to hide that from us, but it's pretty clear now that we're all grown up. Another is that Bernadette's beautiful DIY house, three years in the making, that won her a MacArthur Grant is mercilessly wrecked. The only thing that is there to help her bounce back is a series of miscarriages, followed by a seriously ill child whom Bernadette spends five years basically living in the hospital for. (Ok, and seriously, they all blame Bernadette for the twenty-mile house being destroyed. That's like blaming Yoko for breaking up the Beatles...which they do too! Why does no one blame Nigel? I'm confused, since Nigel was the one who sneakily purchased the house and then cruelly destroyed it. Naturally, it's the victim's fault...Bernadette should start going to VAV...ok, enough). And then who will care for the daughter once she is back to health? Bernadette takes care of all the mundane shit that women are always saddled with. Elgie actually refuses.
“His plane gets in at four,” Dad said. “I'll pick you up at school.” “Can Kennedy come,” I asked, and added a big smile. “No,” he said. “I don't like being in the car with Kennedy. You know that.” “You're no fun.” I threw him my meanest Kubrick face and started eating.
How childish. What a luxury it must be to be a father. Not liking something is a perfectly reasonable excuse for not doing it. At the most, you'll be “no fun” and everyone will go on with their dinner. And then he gets his secretary pregnant. Sigh. No wonder Bernadette, living in sea of crazy private school moms and Seattle traffic, is anxious and depressed. Also, and this will be brief, I promise, but the white supremacy in this book was pretty annoying. (Again, something consistently reconstructed by a general population of deniers.) We have a token person of color, Soo-Lin, and then a few souvenir Japanese tourists who fold origami and create “low-grade confusion” when they enter a room. Everyone worth a complex look at and worth our sympathy is white. And the way Bernadette talks to Manjula, don't get me started. And then there is the class supremacy embodied in the disdain for the Seattle homeless by both Bernadette and Audrey. It seems that this is supposed to be satirical, as it is clearly no longer in fashion to openly look down upon the poor, and we think poorly of people who would actually admit their disdain. But I can tell you that very recently, my hometown in the state of Massachusetts, which is supposed to be some sort of liberal mecca, tried to remove all the benches downtown so the riffraff wouldn't loiter and hurt our thriving (local!) businesses. Explicit or not, supremacy is taught to each and every one of us. I just wonder whether Semple just thinks it's some sort of unfortunate symptom of the one percent. In a totally different vein, I found this book inspiring. Out of found materials, Bernadette creates a house that “feels like a hug.” She's a creative little dumpster-diver. It's what, if I'm not already, I aspire to be. She's witty and smart, and since we're only really privy to a few of her rants, they're fun to read, and not repeated to us while we're trying to shower or something, her zaniness is pretty endearing. Two themes that felt central to me are that we can be pleasantly surprised by things we thought we had pinned and that we can come back to life after being in darkness for so long. Audrey makes this transformation after the incident at the Westin and after she learns Bernadette is to be committed because of her lies. Bernadette realizes that Audrey is really a person just after Audrey realizes it. Bernadette is revived by Antarctica, a place she dreaded going, while Bee basically finds it miserable in spite of the fact that the trip was entirely her desire. Yet Bee finds happiness in her decision to stay in Seattle when she realizes that Choate is full of rich snobs as well as in the writing of her book. We realize that Bernadette, Bee, and Elgie are all creaters. Bernadette and her DIY architecture, Bee with her flute, choreography and then her book, and Elgie with Samantha 2. Yet Bernadette and Bee are lit on fire by their creations. Creating builds human connection and community for them. Elgie, on the other hand, is isolated by Samantha 2. Microsoft pushes the idea of the corporate family to make their employees work more. The corporate offices are complete with a fleet of bikes, free candy machines, and places to pull overnighters. But Elgie doesn't seem to give a hoot about, really, anyone besides Bee and Bernadette. Luckily, by the end of the book, his work at Microsoft has come to its conclusion and he is left to mundane, every day things while Bernadette designs buildings on Antarctica, Bee writes her book, and Soo-Lin creates their baby.
And here it is, your moment of zen:
“But still, I told you how terrible the morning sickness has been, Audrey. For some reason, French toast hasn't been enough. I woke up the other night with a craving to put Molly Moon's salted caramel ice cream on it. I bought a carton and started making salted caramel and French toast ice cream sandwiches. Believe me when I say I should trademark them and start a business. Yesterday Dr. Villar said I'd better watch out, because the baby will be born made of sugar, like a Peep.”
*It always amazes me that patriarchy is considered a term for extremists and old bra-burners, yet it is always depicted so clearly and accurately in the general population of deniers. You just want to be like, you fools, you're doing it right now, you're doing the think you say doesn't exist. Patriarchy is like a Magic Eye image; once you see it, man, you cannot unsee it, and you're looking at the page with someone else, and they're like, but it just looks like some blue and dark blue squiggles, and you're like, it's right there! It's that thing that just looks like blue and dark blue squiggles! That's it! Because to people in a patriarchal society, patriarchy is the normal order, and once you stop thinking it's normal, everyone else looks really crazy. (less)
Merits reading and re-reading. I certainly grew in my thinking the first time around, but rereading a chapter even a few months later, I was stunned a...moreMerits reading and re-reading. I certainly grew in my thinking the first time around, but rereading a chapter even a few months later, I was stunned at how much more insight I had into Davis's straightforward yet complex explanation of the subjects in the title. One thing that I find particularly valuable in all of her writing is her clear, patient descriptions of how our behavior comes from economic necessity. On mornings when I wake up and think it might just all be a conspiracy, I just need a little does of Davis to set me straight. Who are the other Marxist feminists, and are they all so patient with my ignorance?(less)
With no real protagonist, and no one who is really even likeable, I can see how this story might be hard to connect to. There is surely no Dumbledore...more With no real protagonist, and no one who is really even likeable, I can see how this story might be hard to connect to. There is surely no Dumbledore in The Casual Vacancy, and you won't feel good when it's over. As someone who loves books for their characters, this book was hard to love. And yet I thoroughly enjoyed it- for honesty, it's subtle plot, and observations of elite, small-town culture. Her description of poverty was particularly honest and heart-breaking. Krystal Weedon is Tess Derbyfield updated for the 21st century, and that should give us all something to chew on. (less)
This book is a strange mix of the illuminating and the misleading. The research is full of holes and blind spots. Based on the extensive study on two...moreThis book is a strange mix of the illuminating and the misleading. The research is full of holes and blind spots. Based on the extensive study on two out-of-fasion and long-disproven fad diets, the low calorie diet and the high-protein diet, Kolata asserts that we should stop looking at our pandemic of obesity as caused by eating too much and start too look at biological evolutionary factors; after all, people a hundred years ago were on an average three inches shorter, so it should naturally follow that with better nutrition and medicine, we would be not only taller, but fatter. An interesting point, certainly, but Kolata's research is full of little-known information about eating and weight gain/ loss that ends up proving nothing in light of the slew of contradictory facts she presents and then promptly ignores, completely discrediting her conclusions. (less)
Good books are good because we get lost in the characters' journeys, the little moments that make the big ones mean something. The Beet Queen has a de...moreGood books are good because we get lost in the characters' journeys, the little moments that make the big ones mean something. The Beet Queen has a definite absence of little moments. The book is full of destinations. Things happen in this book. I remember some of them. Most of them come out of nowhere and go nowhere. Some of them seemed like they would develop (Karl realizes he is attracted to men and later has an affair with Celestine; Wally realizes he is gay; Sita wears her husband thin caring for her; Celestine has legitimate concerns about Mary's relationship to Dot), but they don't. We hear about them once, our interested is peeked slightly, and then they are dropped; we may hear about their conclusions in passing later on in the story. By brushing over them and hurrying past them, Erdrich seems to expect that we don't care about her characters or what happens to them. And that's exactly what happens. Perhaps we would, had she been patient with their development, answered questions she raised, and followed threads she had started, but instead we are hurried on in a fast-moving car, out whose windows we can see the welcome signs to interesting-looking towns, but that doesn't stop and allow us spend time in the places we pass. (less)
From a literary perspective, I found Lucy endlessly fascinating. I bought it at a used book sale because I had read Jamaica Kincaid's poem "Girl" for...moreFrom a literary perspective, I found Lucy endlessly fascinating. I bought it at a used book sale because I had read Jamaica Kincaid's poem "Girl" for a class and liked it. The novel is something like 160 pages, but is written so deliberately that it could elicit endless discussion. It is poem-like; its story is told by its form as much as by the words themselves. No description, lots of action, gets right to the point. I admire this sort of writing as I myself find it so hard to do, but so effective when it is done well. I imagine, although I haven't read him since the tenth grade, Kincaid may have a style similar to Hemmingway in her sparsity and sharpness. I would die to be able to discuss Lucy in a classroom setting, but I honestly think I would need to read it again to be able to organize my ideas about it.
From a social perspective, too, Lucy, despite its sparsity and narrow focus, draws on huge themes. Gender, feminism, racism, colonialism, white privilege, to name the major ones. I imagine that the novel might be eye-opening for someone who has never had to think about these things, and affirming for someone who has had no choice. The themes, especially colonialism and privilege, are explored deeply by the book's simplicity. At one point Lucy muses that the people in the world who oppress other people all seem to live in places with four distinct seasons. Small revelations like these, scattered liberally throughout the book, give the novel its substance and serve to make Kincaid's point by leaving analysis to the reader.
But from the part of me that loves books and characters that I can connect to emotionally, I did not love Lucy. Part of it might be the book's length and lack of description, as I am partial to long, descriptive books that really get into every detail. The first-person narration may have also been a turn-off, as I definitely relish some authorial imposition and analysis. But I think above all, I did not connect to Lucy as a character. Certainly, her situation in life is drastically different than mine, and I would probably fall into the category of people whom Lucy resents because of their privilege, but more than that, Lucy is bitter, angry, and pessimistic. If I knew her in real life, I would stay the hell away. One scene that has really stuck with me is the one where Mariah, Lucy's employer, says to Lucy, "You are a very angry person, aren't you?" and Lucy says, "Yes, what did you expect?" She implies that having a difficult position in life necessarily makes one angry. But although Kincaid supplies the action, she lets the reader make the judgment. I do not agree with Lucy's meaning here, as I think it is a vast over-generalization, but I think it says a lot about who Lucy is as a person, and explains, in a nutshell, why I did not like her. (less)