Maria Semple's latest novel, Where'd You Go, Bernadette, is a sharply funny, occasionally exasperating, eventually heartwarming story of self-regarding entitled geniuses, upper-middle-class creatives and the hell they've created called Seattle, and collateral damage. A family farce with a cast of exaggerated yet endearing wealthy characters P. G.Wodehouse might have come up with had he been alive in the Microsoft-era Northwest, Where'd You Go, Bernadette is ostensibly a collection of documents collected by daughter Bee as part of her effort to find her missing mother, Bernadette Fox, a misanthropic agoraphobe who goes AWOL on the eve of a famiy trip to Antarctica.

 

Ranging from ER bills to victim-support-group emails to secret missives, the documents--all invented by Semple, of course--are pitch-perfect, revealing a mastery of tone, register, grammar, and style. Yes, it's a veritable grammar and style school, as the pieces Semple wrote in the voice of Bernadette herself are far different from those of her nemeses, an aspirational busybody private-school mom and a conniving administrative assistant out to steal Bernadette's software-genius husband, Elgie.

 

Certainly, using different voices for different characters is nothing new in fiction. Epistolary novels from Aphra Behn's Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister (1684-87) to Samuel Richardson's 1740 Pamela to Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), created from a collection of fictional documents, have 

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