That was my impression while reading Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette. While I’ve read novels composed of correspondence before, I’ve never read one composed of so many types of correspondence: from hospital bills to magazine articles to ships’ logs.
It seemed like an experiment, as if the writer was continually asking herself: Could I write this scene in the form of a transcript? Let’s give it a whirl. Could I write this one as a school report card? Sure, I can. How about a mass email? Let’s go for it.
Did this technique work? Not quite. The book kept me amused (especially as I’d purchased it as vacation reading, and it did a good job at the hotel/on the beach/in the airplane—a little too slapstick for my tastes, but still okay). However, I found it jarring, moving from so many points of view presented in so many styles, complete with lifelike but unnecessary information. I wanted to hear more from teenage Bee, and was surprised as I dove deeper into the book to discover her input remains minimal.
After reading Bernadette, it seems to me there’s a reason most books are written in the usual first/third-person point of view—a method so common it feels as if someone is gently guiding you by the hand. By contrast, Semple’s novel constantly shoves you this way and that—perhaps a reflection of the seasickness Bernadette is so afraid of.