I’ve been reading a lot of long, emotionally heavy books lately, plus I’ve been kind of overloaded with work stuff (a lot of good stuff, but a lot of stuff, nonetheless). So I went looking for a book that’s light and funny, but not so light and funny that I’d feel like I was wasting my time. That’s a pretty tough balance, really. Literature has no shortage of excellent, dramatic, thought-provoking books. But finding a good book that’s also funny is rarer than I’d like.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple, was perfect. Told primarily through letters and emails, it’s a pretty quick read. But it’s sarcastic without being cynical, biting without being mean, and critical of our society but hopeful about our journey through life.
The story follows a girl whose mother was a famous artist who largely abandoned her work, partly because she became a mother, but for other reasons too (they come to light late-ish in the story and I don’t want to spoil it here). The book deals with what we give up as we get older — whether we become parents or not — and whether those sacrifices are healthy.
There’s a also a lot of perfectly hilarious mockery of society parents who have more than enough money to get by, but aren’t so weathly that they’re set for life — people who scramble more to keep up with the Joneses than to make ends meet. If this were the 80’s, I’d call them yuppies … but what are these people called now? I have no idea. Anyway, even though Semple is poking fun at this group, the book never feels mean-spirited. The characters aren’t realistic in a traditional sense (a trip to Antartica is a big theme in the book, there’s a house made out of spare doorknobs, and a good deal of plot is driven by a mini-avalanche), but I think Semple’s decision to take her characters a few steps quirkier than reality was a good one. It allows us to feel their problems without getting bogged down from them, and we can recognize ourselves without feeling overburdened by the comparison.
There’s not enough entertainment that makes us laugh and think at the same time, and there certainly aren’t enough novels that are genuinely funny. This is one of them, and it’s great to read in bits (in line at the DMV, while waiting in the carpool line, etc.) or to knock out all at once on a lazy Saturday.