It's time to start over, a brand new reading year - Happy 2013!
As regulars know, I am a bit obsessed with the Tournament of Books competition. In past years, the list has been released in mid-to-late January with the competition taking place in March. This year, apparently by popular demand, the list was released earlier - the week before Christmas. Trying to predict the list over last year, I did a marginal job (there are always surprises in ToB!) and managed to read 5 of the 15 announced books (and have 2 of 3 "playoff" books, with one advancing to round out the field).
Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette had been more off than on my to-be-read pile, but when it made the ToB cut and I was looking for something quick and easy to start the year off, it seemed like the perfect book.
I am big fan of "quirky" and that word has been used a lot in describing this book -- so much so it was almost one of the reasons I was hesitant to read it (yes, something can be too quirky for me!). I had some fears at the start, it all seemed a bit too cute-sy with its contemporary epistolary format style of e-mails, letters, medical reports, faxes (faxes?!), etc. -- but once gaining some rhythm, I was devouring this novel like a bowl of tortilla chips (which, if you had to the good fortune of dining out with me at a Mexican restaurant, is sometimes ain't pretty folks!). In a highest compliment, I found it somewhat reminiscent of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series with all the oddball characters, alternating perspectives, "just one more" page-turning compulsion, and a city that becomes a character in and of itself (in this case, Seattle).
[Total sidenote: Not sure if I thought it while reading this book or writing this review, but I have decided I am going to try to re-read all 6 of the original Tales of the City novels this year. Going to read one every two months (so the first one will be sometime in January/February, and so on). I rarely re-read things as I like to keep that original memory intact -- especially if I loved something -- but it seemed like a fun "project" within my usual annual reading goals. Okay, back to Bernadette... ]
Given how much fun this novel is, it is kind of difficult gauging how good it is and/or take it too seriously. It's kind of like the Academy Awards, where it is rare to see a comedic performance even get nominated, let alone win. But Semple certainly has skill and comic chops and it is nice to see a book of this nature get the attention it is getting in year-end best-of lists and make things like ToB.
Despite feeling the story story tailed off in the end -- not that it was an unsatisfying conclusion, but "snap, crackle, and pop" of this novel was all in the lead-up and immediate aftermath of Bernadette's disappearance (given the title, I am assuming this is no spoiler) and it almost seemed an impossible task for Semple to keep it up through the resolution/conclusion.
This was almost enough to dip it to down to my hedged 3.5 stars rating, but I'll stick with a full-on 4 stars for the creativity, fun, and that pushed-right-to-the-edge quirk that were the hallmarks of the large majority of the novel.