Ta-Nehisi Coates himself has said that James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time” is the best essay he ever read. Originally published in 1963, find this essay in a collection of Baldwin’s work in the ESSAYS AND COLUMNS section on the library’s upper level.
Watch for more important book suggestions coming to this space in July and August.
wondered? Nope. Just her west coast double, Bernadette, a sulky Seattle housewife with a mysterious past who goes AWOL on the eve of a family jaunt to Antarctica. That leaves her over-achieving teenage daughter, Bee, and her mostly-clueless Microsoft exec hubby, Elgie, to puzzle out where she’d gone.
Bee assembles the bread crumb trail of her Mom’s long-buried life and lays it out in a series of hilarious vignettes and documentary ephemera. The vignettes involve busybody moms from Bee’s second-tier prep school—unfortunately located next to an odiferous seafood warehouse—whose efforts to bust into the top tier of Seattle schools are frustrated by gardening disasters, rampant neuroses, automotive envy, and gossip. Ah, and did I mention a mudslide? Well, it is Seattle in the rainy season. Imagine.
Meanwhile, Bee is being set up for a transfer to Choate, the back-east prep school at which Mom flourished before matriculating at Princeton. Despite the family’s bottomless bank accounts and offshore personal assistant (India) who handles the money, mom Bernadette ignores the leaky roof of their hilltop manse and retreats to the Petit Trianon, her backyard camper.
After Bernadette vanishes, it’s Bee who pieces together the shattered fragments of these chaotic lives from a metaphorical dustbin of emails, school memos, emergency room bills, Artforum magazine, interviews, maps, hotel tabs, psychiatric evaluations, police and FBI reports. Laid out more or less chronologically, this deadpan detritus is hilarious. Kinda like life. Only more so.
Besides its engaging characters and unusual format, Bernadette delivers a devastating satire of Seattle and Microsoft, some laugh-out-loud passages about tech lingo and psychotherapy, and smart jabs at real architects, notably postmodernist Michael Graves and Getty Center designer Richard Meier.
Don’t just take my word for it, even the experts offer these cryptic raves:
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