Why on earth, at the height of blackberry season, would anyone think, "Hmm, now's the time to get out the weed killer"? I can't tell you the number of prime blackberry locations I've been scouting all summer long, with visions of blackberry pie dancing in my head, only to discover that in just the last week those very vines are dying a sudden, herbicidally induced death, and the at-long-last-ripe berries have been rendered toxically, tragically verboten.
By coincidence, the eradication of invasive blackberries is the catalyst for a series of catastrophic events in the novel I'm reviewing this week,
In this case, the annihilation takes place in December, a month in which I think blackberries are fair game.
But the invasive vines in Seattle author Maria Semple's new book, "Where'd You Go, Bernadette," do not submit meekly - they're just the first domino to fall in a caper that skewers the compulsively caffeinated, politically correct, technologically addicted foibles of the Emerald City.
The title character, Bernadette, and her husband, Elgie, are California transplants. He is a top-tier Microsoft developer immersed in his work. She is a certifiable genius and an agoraphobic architect. Together, they are the parents of a precocious 15-year-old named Bee.
Bernadette has never recovered from the trauma, years ago, of having a legendary house she designed bulldozed by its new owner. Crushed by the experience, she no longer designs buildings, but fritters her time instead feuding with PTA moms and engaging in increasingly caustic diatribes against her adopted home of Seattle - its five-way intersections, its homeless, its Craftsman-style bungalows, its private schools, its tattooed baristas and the parking system (to mention just a few of her pet peeves).
Bernadette has even taken to outsourcing her to-do list. Her India-based virtual assistant is prompt, reliable, and, at 75 cents an hour, cheap. From afar, Manjula can research Seattle's compound pharmacies, make Thanksgiving dinner reservations and, when Bee coerces her parents into taking a trip to Antarctica over Christmas break, provision the trip.
Only with the prompting of an all-too-eager-to-please administrative assistant at Microsoft does Elgie realize that his wife is spiraling into a paralyzing depression and needs professional help. But the planned intervention goes awry when Bernadette disappears.
When all of the adults involved appear to be hapless about locating her, daughter Bee stubbornly starts piecing together the clues. "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" is the case she builds, based on a collection of pilfered e-mails, a psychologist's reports, school memos, magazine articles, invoices, live-blog transcripts, and more.
Semple does not execute this pastiche format as effectively as Jess Walters did earlier this summer in his multifaceted novel "Beautiful Ruins." Furthermore, "Bernadette" relies on some convenient changes of heart and deus ex machina moments that push the story along dutifully, if not convincingly.
But as a former TV comedy writer and an L.A. transplant herself, Semple does nail Seattle's idiosyncrasies in wickedly funny send-ups. "Where'd You Go Bernadette" is a quirky read.
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.