This One Is Mine by Maria Semple

thisoneI loved Where’d You Go Bernadette? so much that I immediately got this one (her first book) from the library and promptly started it.  I didn’t like it quite as much as Bernadette, though, like Bernadette, I found it hard to put down.  I liked the snappy writing and this also changed pov’s quite a bit, so you see various pieces of a story and the bigger picture before the characters themselves do.  She definitely has a style that is identifiable, and one which I like.  I’d say the main reason I didn’t like this one quite as much is this: there are three main characters in this book and they are all kind of awful.  Just when you think you’re rooting for someone they go ahead and do something terrible.  You see flashes of a good side, but then it seems like their bad side takes over.  I like to be on board with at least one character (and, for all her flaws, I liked Bernadette and didn’t think she was a bad person at all) and there were times when I found myself thinking, “you’re all so awful who cares that you’re making terrible mistakes and messing up your lives!” But you know me, deep down (not so deep down) I was rooting for a happy ending.

The story is this-Violet and David are married and living a fancy life in LA. She used to write for television (just like the author) and he is a superstar famous music producer.  Hanging out with Mick Jagger or Ringo Starr or other up and coming bands is totally normal for them.  They have a darling baby Dot, who is primarily cared for by the nanny, whom they call LadyGo. Their perfect life is really not so great as we find out from each of them.  Their marriage has become bitter and resentful.  A seemingly entirely separate storyline revolves around David’s sister, Sally.  She is vain, shallow, scheming and I really found her a terrible person.  She sets her sights on a man she calculates will become famous and begins forcing a romance. It is evident to everyone (at least every reader) that the man is autistic or has Aspberger’s Syndrome.  Yet she remains clueless. I found it strange that no one else who knew him every mentioned it to her.  Anyway, Violet one day meets a man who completely bewitches her.  She is wildly attracted to Teddy and on fire for him.  He’s an old junkie, crass, vulgar, and for some reason he turns her on.  I spent a lot of time shouting in my head at Violet to just walk away from Teddy. But she did not listen to me. And thus everything falls to pieces for everyone. And then the pieces begin to fit together.

Even though I was mad at the characters often, I really like Semple’s writing and I was dying to find out what would happen to everyone, so I would recommend this too.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? By Maria Semple

bernadetteThis has been on the edges of my awareness for a while, as the author has written for Arrested Development and when I read that in several reviews I knew I had to read this. I loved it! One of those books I kept finding time to read, and blew through it pretty quickly. It was so funny! And, had quirky that the book I just read a few days ago (Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore) had someone who worked at Google and lots about that, and this one has someone who works at Microsoft and lots about that?

This book is made up of emails and memos, but also some straight connecting narrative.  Bernadette and Elgie are married and their daughter Bee is a brilliant 8th grader. Elgie is a brilliant Microsoft guy, Bernadette was once a brilliant architect (MacArthur Genius Grant brilliant), and so pretty much everyone in this book is smarter than you. Except possibly Audrey and Soo-Yin, the awful nasty parents of some of Bee’s classmates. So many wonderful characters! Everyone lives in Seattle, which Bernadette hates. And her commentary on Seattle and the people is hilarious. Really, Bernadette is simply hilarious. She’s pretty much agoraphobic. Well, sort of. She doesn’t like to leave her property and has outsourced most aspects of her life to a virtual assistant in India. No other adults like Bernadette and some of them seem to downright have it in for her.  Fortunately Bee loves and adores her and the two have a great time together.  Bernadette loves Bee so much that when Bee asks for a trip to Antarctica, how can she refuse even though she hates being around other people?

Now, we know from the get-go that Bernadette vanishes right before the trip. How we get to that moment is most of the story, and then the fallout from her disappearance. I loved all the, well not really subplots, and not just incidentals, but the different parts of the story that revealed what the different characters were like. From the prospective parents brunch (hoping to lure “Mercedes Parents”–gag), to the rides on the Microsoft Connector, to the email exchanges between Manjula and Bernadette, all of it combined to make one big multi-faceted story.

I’m not sure if I’m supposed to like Bernadette wholeheartedly or think she is flawed, but I am definitely in her camp and found her flaws totally understandable. For all that people tried to blame her for stuff, I felt like it needed pointing out that a lot of other people needed to be blamed for the shit they had done to Bernadette. I felt pretty angry on her behalf!!

But overall, I loved this, thought it was funny, adored Bee, cracked up over every comment about Seattle, was entranced by the South Pole, and thought it was great. Will definitely be reading her first novel now.