Study Guide

Where'd You Go, Bernadette Disappointment

By Maria Semple

Disappointment

The Twenty Mile House, which had taken three years to complete, had been demolished in a day. The only pictures that exist are the ones realtor Judy Toll took with her point-and-shoot. (2.112)

Bernadette's second building, a true passion project, is destroyed by its first owner, a bitter neighbor seeking revenge after a long-running feud. Bernadette has always had the tendency to rub people the wrong way, but for the first time she's faced to confront the consequences of that devil-may-care attitude...not that she deserved such an outcome, of course.

I just wanted to leave L.A. [...] and when I determined that everyone felt sufficiently sorry [...] show those bastards who the true b**** goddess of architecture really is (2.133)

At first, Bernadette takes her early career disappointment in stride. It's painful, no doubt, but it'll take a lot bigger of a haymaker than that to knock Bernadette down for the count. Or will it? As our heroine will learn over the coming years, it can be hard to patch up your ego after a bruising like that.

But what really happened was I came up here and had four miscarriages. Try as I might, it's hard to blame that one on Nigel Mills-Murray. (2.181)

Bernadette's miscarriages come to represent her feelings of dissatisfaction about her architectural career. In both instances, she feels an inability to create, an inability to finish something that she started. Of course, miscarriages can be traumatic on their own, but they're even more painful for Bernadette given this extra dimension.

I think about Nigel Mills-Murray. Was I really so bad that I deserved to have three years of my life destroyed for some rich prick's practical joke? (2.182)

Instead of receding with time, Bernadette's feelings of anger and disappointment only grow. Maybe it's because reality is setting in. Maybe it's because she hasn't designed anything since. No matter the specific reason, Bernadette is quickly sinking into a hole that she'll struggle to climb out from.

"I can't make anything without destroying it," I'd say. (2.192)

Here, Bernadette lays her feelings on the table, though she's still hesitant to reveal just how traumatized she is by the Twenty Mile House debacle.

People like you must create. If you don't create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society. (2.237)

Bernadette Fox is many things, and "a menace to society" is definitely one of them. We see this throughout her time in Seattle, with her deep disappointment bubbling over and infecting her feelings toward everyone around her.

I'm not the same woman who wrote that foolish Christmas poem. At the same time, I'm not sure who I am. I trust God to guide me. (5.35)

Bernadette isn't the only person dealing with feelings of disappointment. Audrey Griffin struggles to admit that her family has fallen on hard times, and this shame drives her to do some nasty things, mostly to Bernadette. It's only when everything falls apart that she's able to see the truth.

"That's where I really failed your mom," he said. "She was an artist who had stopped creating. I should have done everything I could to get her back." (6.243)

While Elgin can't be blamed for Bernadette getting stuck in her rut, he could have done tons more to help her climb out of it. In truth, he simply didn't realize how deep she'd gotten. Let's hope that from here on out, hubby dearest won't make the same mistake again.

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