I stopped at my local library this weekend to pick up a book I had on reserve (because in addition to having too many books to read at home, I also keep a lively library book request queue) (but supporting the library is like a civic duty, right?) and saw this book on the Bestseller Express checkout shelf. I don't know if all libraries do this; ours takes popular, high-demand books and has a number of copies that can be checked out for a fee ($4) and can only be kept 10 days instead of the usual 21. I've never used it before, but as I saw it on the shelf and reflected on the fact that I was #311 on the non-express waitlist the last time I checked, I picked it up, paid the fee, and drove home, hoping I'd have time to squeeze it in during the 10 days.
That was Saturday morning. Sunday before dinner, I finished it.
Best $4 I ever spent.
How could I possibly resist a book about family dysfunction, a mother (Bernadette) who disappears right before the family is supposed to head out on a trip to Antarctica as a reward for the middle-school kid getting perfect grades, the same mother whose intense dislike of the Seattle community and specifically the other parents at her daughter's school has caused her to retreat into her house and hire a virtual assistant from India to do things like schedule dentist appointments, another mother who's a brilliant parody (or perhaps not quite parody, even scarier) of parents who don't believe their little darlings can do anything wrong, and architecture, and Microsoft, and a mudslide, and what happens when creative genius is stifled?
Bonus: lots of humor, but lots of touching moments that don't tip over into gooey sentimentality.
Right off the bat, we learn a great deal about the middle school in question:
"Galer Street School is a place where compassion, academics, and global connectitude join together to create civic-minded citizens of a sustainable and diverse planet.
Student: Bee Branch
S Surpasses Excellence
A Achieves Excellence
W Working towards Excellence"
Global connectitude? A grade system that only recognizes levels of excellence? Author Maria Semple had me on that first page and held onto me through the wild ride that follows.
The narrative is a crazy quilt of emails, faxes, police records, and Bee's (the middle school daughter of Bernadette) narration as she tries to make sense of her mother's abrupt disappearance. Along the way, as the puzzle pieces come together, Bee learns--as does the reader--a whole lot about who Bernadette really is and why she behaves the way she does.
The humor that balances out the sadder parts of the book is much needed, and it should come as no surprise that the author has also written for Mad About You, Ellen, and Arrested Development.
I guess this was my little weekend gift to myself. Loved it.