I read Where’d You Go, Bernadette at just the right time. Maybe whenever I read it would have been the right time. It is a really enjoyable, lighthearted read with a mostly-fun story. But for me, personally, the story reached down into my mama-heart, and it grabbed hold hard.
Bernadette is an eccentric woman with a strong wit and a creative mind. Famous in some architectural circles for work she soon distanced herself from, she now lives with agoraphobia, stepping out of her home primarily for the sake of her daughter, Bee, whom she loves dearly. Until, of course, Bernadette disappears completely. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is Bee’s project of search and discovery for her mother. Maria Semple has written a book that will make you chuckle. And, if you’re anything like me, it will likely feel like a punch in the gut sometimes, too.
Have you ever disappeared? I don’t really mean the kind of disappearing that Bernadette literally does – the running away and escaping without a trace kind of disappearing. I mean, the disappearing that happens when you lose yourself. The disappearing that accompanies that motherhood identity crisis. The disappearing that happens when YOU get replaced by MOM. The disappearing that happens when your mama-body is unable to sustain your babies’ lives. The disappearing that happens when you’re no longer creating – no longer being recognized by the outside world.
Have you felt that? Have you disappeared?
How does your disappearance affect those closest to you?
“I realized I was now looking at Bernadette Past and Present. There was a terrifying chasm between the woman I fell in love with and the ungovernable one sitting across from me.”
In the midst of Maria Semple’s laugh-out-loud novel is a hard truth about a woman – a mother – who is struggling with anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental illness. I read portions of the text as if it were my own personal biography. I felt the words deeply in my core because I had experienced them. Semple writes this struggle in a way that will feel so very real and understandable to women.
“I can feel the irrationality and anxiety draining my store of energy like a battery-operated race car grinding away in the corner. This is the energy I will need to get through the next day. But I just lie in bed and watch it burn, and with it any hope for a productive tomorrow. There go the dishes, there goes the grocery store, there goes exercise, there goes bringing in the garbage cans. There goes basic human kindness.”
Maria Semple writes a humour-filled novel that also works to open up the discussion of mental illness, especially maternal mental illness. Semple asks us to question our definition of “crazy” in a world filled with workaholics, home-wreckers, and gossips. What is unique about Bernadette that she should be “locked up”? Or is some “crazy” more socially acceptable than others? How can that be when upwards of 20% of mothers suffer from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders? Women are disappearing from our society around us and we choose to gossip about it behind their backs or hide it away instead of talking about it and trying to help because it isn’t socially acceptable.
Maria Semple is talking about it. She’s writing about it. And by reading Where’d You Go, Bernadette, we’re engaging in the conversation. We’re finding a disappeared woman and bringing her back again. This book should be read and enjoyed and it should be allowed to sink deeper.
“’I love you, Bee,’ Mom said. ‘I’m trying. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.’”
Have you read Where’d You Go, Bernadette yet? What did you think about it?
Moms Reading (or, #MomsReading) is a book club designed for busy Moms in mind. It is an online book club that meets once a month on Facebook to discuss that month’s book. Check out the MomsReading page, Like us on Facebook, or join the Goodreads group to keep up to date with our book choices and the book chats.
May’s book club meets tomorrow night, when we’ll be discussing The Cukoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith. Tune in tomorrow for my book review and join the discussion tomorrow night at 9pm Eastern on Facebook. If you haven’t yet read The Cuckoo’s Calling, then start reading our June book! We will be reading The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. The discussion will take place on Wednesday, June 25th at 9pm Eastern.
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