SEATTLE Maria Semple made a jarring discovery when she moved with her boyfriend and daughter from Los Angeles to Seattle, a city whose Patagonia-clad inhabitants like to talk about bicycling, the environment and the eternally dull question (in her opinion) of whether it might rain.
Its just not a funny place, said Semple, a novelist and veteran comedy writer who worked on the television shows Arrested Development and Mad About You. I was in a miserable mind frame, and I found that I was driving around and all I was thinking about were funny things about how awful Seattle was. I would do these riffs in my head and I would polish them in my head. It was poisonous and self-pitying.
But from those silently brooding riffs came an idea for her next heroine: Bernadette Fox, a difficult, creatively frustrated misanthrope who, like Semple, had relocated to Seattle from Los Angeles and loathed her new city.
Whered You Go, Bernadette has emerged as one of the most absorbing novels of the summer. It tells the story of Bernadette, a former architect who won a MacArthur genius grant and then disappeared from public view; her tech-guru husband, Elgin Branch, who is nerd-famous for an especially rousing TED talk; and their precocious teenage daughter, Bee, who has persuaded her parents to go on a family trip to Antarctica before she heads off to boarding school.
In Bernadettes eyes Seattle is an earnest, unfashionable, bewildering place where five-way intersections clog traffic, Microsoft is Big Brother, invasive blackberry bushes are a mysterious citywide plague and Craftsman houses are annoyingly ubiquitous turn-of-the-century Craftsman, beautifully restored Craftsman, reinterpretation of Craftsman, needs-some-love Craftsman, modern take on Craftsman, Bernadette rants. Its like a hypnotist put everyone from Seattle in a collective trance. You are getting sleepy, when you wake up you will want to live only in a Craftsman house, the year wont matter to you, all that will matter is that the walls will be thick, the windows tiny, the rooms dark, the ceilings low, and it will be poorly situated on the lot.