iamnothamlet’s #CBR5 Review #56: This One is Mine by Maria Semple

This One is Mine is Maria Semple’s first novel. Many on this site have read and reviewed her follow-up bestseller, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? and I am one of them. I loved Bernadette because it was easy to empathize with all of Semple’s characters despite their profound flaws. Semple was able to craft situations which put her characters into conflict based on their unique, imperfect personalities.

This One is Mine is Semple’s first attempt at such a difficult balancing act, and while its humor and understanding are evidence of the author’s immense talent, many of the characters are too unlikable for this novel to be as memorable as Bernadette.

This One is Mine is about a fissure in the seemingly strong marriage between self-made millionaire and music executive David Parry and Violet, an unhappy former TV writer. Their once strong connection is tested by Violet’s encounter with a charming low-life named Teddy Reyes, a bass player in a Rolling Stones cover band. Alongside David and Violet’s story, David’s sister Sally, a past her prime ballerina, laments her status as a single 36-year-old and schemes to trap a sportscaster on the rise into marriage and parenthood.

While Violet’s plot could easily have devolved into poor-little-rich-girl stereotypes, Semple’s creative plotting elevates the material above that. However, Violet’s irrational behavior and poor decisions are trying on the reader, perhaps especially on the male reader. Yet, Violet is a saint compared to the truly despicable Sally. Following Sally as she abused friends, plotted to get her way, lied to everyone including her fiancee, was too much to bear. Sally is every man’s worst fear, a total bitch who manages to fool a guy long enough to get a ring on her finger. If a male novelist had brought Sally Parry into the world, the literary world would score him as a base misogynist perpetrating the worst stereotype of woman imaginable. I’m not sure Semple should get off the hook just because she’s a woman.

Still, there’s too much to enjoy here not to like This One is Mine, even if it registers as something of a minor work by an incredibly talented woman capable of much more.

Advertisements

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #53: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, BernadetteWhere’d You Go, Bernadette (2013) by Maria Semple was a book I first heard of through the many Cannonball reviews posted this year. It didn’t strike my interest at first; it sounded too weird. But the reviews kept coming in, and I even saw a Facebook friend gushing about it. I don’t like to feel left out, so I got myself on the lengthy wait list at the library. And I was not disappointed. I couldn’t put it down, and instead of doing the many productive things that I had planned, I finished this one in one day.

This book is part mystery, part biting social satire, part comedy, and part family drama. Semple does a fantastic job of mixing everything together and telling a sweet, funny, and above all incredibly original story.

Click here to read further.

loulamac’s #CBRV review #48: Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

antarctica-cruise

I’m going to do that thing I do when I don’t much like a book everyone else is raving about. It’s rare that a book lives up to the hype (Skippy Dies is one of the few that did), and Where’d You Go Bernadette just falls short.

Bernadette lives in Seattle with her husband Elgie and daughter Bee. She’s pretty peculiar, and spends all of her reclusive life railing against her fellow humans (Sartre’s ‘hell is other people’ quote springs to mind), obsessing over perceived slights and rejecting the general absurdity of life. When Bee aces all her classes at middle school, she demands a cruise to Antarctica as her long-promised reward. This means that Bernadette is faced with having to deal with real people in close quarters, and she starts to unravel.

The novel uses a multitude of ‘source material’, with various different characters taking up the thread of the story. There are emails between friends, colleagues and employees; a transcript of a TED talk that Elgie gave; notes from doctors and articles about Bernadette’s brief career as an architect. So we learn of Bernadette’s state of mind and the past that brought her to where she is today through her emails to an Indian assistant she found on the internet. Exchanges between Elgie’s assistant and her best friend Audrey (a mother at Bee’s school) reveal an outsider’s views of Bernadette’s eccentric behaviour, and the feud between these latter two women provides some of the best moments of the novel.

While the book may be charming and funny in places, the story telling is a bit cack-handed. There is a pointless sub-plot about the Russian mafia that we could have done without, and the entire portion of the book following Bernadette’s physical disappearance loses its way. Faced with the challenge of bringing all the threads of the story together, Semple struggles.

So, while the book doesn’t live up to the hype, it’s worth a read. Just don’t expect too much.

Popcultureboy’s #CBR5 Review #70: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

15848225

 

As you’d expect from a writer on Arrested Development, this is a super smart and brilliantly funny satire novel that also makes you care about what’s going on. That’s because Semple has given us characters where you’d normally find caricatures. Loved it. Full review is on my blog here.

Lollygagger’s #CBR5 Review #28: Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

This book is popular among Cannonballers, and I get why. It’s got a different structure, a bit of whimsy and focuses much of its hatred on my grungy / crunchy little hometown of Seattle. In fact, the only thing that made me interested in reading the book was the tie to Seattle. However, I think people who have either never visited the Pacific Northwest or have no animosity towards it will still enjoy the book.

The book is told through some absurd narrative devices – the perspective of a middle school child, emails between neighbors and desperate private school marketers, investigators, magazine articles – but remains fairly coherent throughout. The main narrator is Bernadette’s daughter, although we do get to view things from Bernadette’s perspective as she communicates with her personal assistant (who is based in India – perhaps she got the idea from A.J. Jacobs’s book?). Bernadette going missing, while ostensible the focus of the book, only happens about 2/3 of the way through, which allows us to build up the characters and learn a bit more about them.

Without giving too much away, there is a whole lot of absurdity / unavailability throughout the book. From a super-last-minute trip to Antarctica to a bit of a deus ex machina ending, I definitely had to suspend disbelief numerous times. However, the details about Seattle were pretty spot on, so at least that wasn’t distracting to me.

I read this book over the course of two red-eye flights to Europe for my honeymoon. I was tired and not really interested in anything that taxed my brain too intensely. This book definitely fit the bill. Call it a beach read, or a plane read, or whatever. But I think it’s worth adding to your ‘when I need to turn off my brain but still feel like I’m using it’ list.

Travis_J_Smith’s Review #67: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

mf-bernadette-580x414

I’m not generally one for peer pressure, but the sheer number of reviews and effusive praise for Where’d You Go, Bernadette convinced me that I had to read this book. I did and, as I usually am with books as acclaimed as this, was let down considerably.

Had the story ended with Bernadette’s (initial) disappearance, it would’ve moved at least one notch up to a 3 instead of a 2. But it doesn’t, and Semple’s story starts to unravel. Short of spoiling the ending, I’ll say this: from her disappearance onward, I could suspend my disbelief no longer.

My problems with Where’d You Go, Bernadette, however, started much earlier. Refreshing though it was, the format of the book itself didn’t quite work for me. At times, I bought it completely, whereas in other cases I found reason to question it. In other words, not every snippet of correspondence is created equal.

Some I felt the story could’ve done without. Others weren’t as well-written as the rest. And, in general, it all felt pretty samey. No matter who as talking, and no matter the form his or her correspondence took, the differences were negligible.

Yet, that being said, I also feel almost as if the book could’ve been improved by cutting out Bee’s input. Few will even go so far as to entertain that thought, saying it was essential to the plot, but I never connected to, or particularly liked, Bee.

Plus, a story told entirely through correspondence is much more ambitious and, thus, appeals to me more than the book as is. There would be a far greater chance for failure, but I would’ve been interested to see Semple at least try.

In short, it was a very hot-and-cold book (pun intended) for me. Disappointing, but with enough promise for me to consider giving Semple another shot.

 

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 30: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

faintingviolet’s #CBR5 review #7: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria SempleGoodreads summary: “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.”

This book has been reviewed about a million times during the Cannonball, and it was, in fact, the numerous glowing reviews that encouraged me to pick it up. Several months on the library’s wait-list later, I was finally able to read the book and I was NOT disappointed!

Bernadette is full of characters, each uniquely realized, that leap off the page. For the most part, even the most flawed characters are amusing and likeable. I loved Bee, who is smart and challenging without being obnoxious or bratty; similarly, Bernadette herself is eccentric, naive to a fault, and occasionally petty, but never to the extent that you don’t sympathize with her.

The well-paced plot unfolded unpredictably, yet believably — though at first someone vanishing into thin air seems far-fetched, Semple keeps her finger well enough on the pulse of reality to offer plausible explanations for every twist and missed connection. The book was also, frankly, hilarious. Full of lighthearted satire that doesn’t veer into mean-spirited jibes, the narrative included laugh-out-loud takedowns of Pacific northwest intellectual bourgeoisie types. I don’t want to go on more than is necessary, since if you’ve been reading Cannonball at all you’ll have read this exact review more times than you need for your health. So I’ll just add my voice to the “highly recommend this” pile and call it a day!