Books

Apologies for the Delay: A Heavily Edited Email Conversation About Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Cast

STEPH CHA, Los Feliz, Los Angeles. Formerly of Drinks No Caffeine. Refuses to walk down street without a) the company of her basset hound Duke or b) reading a book. Hence is not only one of those people who read while walking, but also one of those people who read while walking the dog.

TOM DIBBLEE, East Hollywood, Los Angeles. Formerly of Backpack. Walks on tiptoes with forward tilt. Sufferer of frequent calf cramps. Man who buys same pair of shoes once a year despite insuffiency of said shoes to calves and gait.

SAM FREILICH, Koreatown, Los Angeles. Formerly of Not on Facebook. Has been to the Police Museum. Knows about the shootouts displayed therein. In 1997 the robbers and police involved in the North Hollywood Shootout unloaded 2,000 rounds.

ALYSSA VINE, Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Formerly of Sandwiches. Refuses to eat anything that requires use of a spoon. Fears either the spoon’s a) solidity or b) roundness. Knows how to send professional-sounding emails.

Action

ALYSSA: Hi Steph, want to talk about Bernadette?

TOM: Ok.

ALYSSA: Tom, you’ll get your chance to participate, but only after Steph and I spend three weeks amassing 20,000 words on the best novel to come out of the Seattle parenting circuit since…

STEPH: DO NOT TRY TO NAME ANY OTHER NOVELS TO EMERGE FROM THE SEATTLE PARENTING CIRCUIT. THERE ARE NONE ASIDE FROM THIS ONE. THIS IS A LOSING BATTLE. STICK TO THE TEXT. WE ARE ABLE READERS. I AM SPEAKING IN MY OWN VOICE RIGHT NOW. THIS PIECE HERE WAS NEVER EDITED. I AM MY OWN WOMAN. I REFER YOU TO MY DOG DUKE WHO WILL CORROBORATE MY CLAIM.

SAM: Tone it down; too many caps.

ALYSSA: Hi Steph, want to talk about Bernadette?

STEPH: LET ME ASK MY DOG. I AM THE NUMBER-ONE MOST STEADFAST FRIEND TO DOGS IN ALL OF LOS ANGELES. LET ME ASK, ALYSSA. GIVE ME TIME. YOU ARE BREATHING DOWN MY NECK RIGHT NOW. YOU SEND PROFESSIONAL EMAILS AND I AM GLAD FOR THAT. I AM SUMMONING MY GREATEST THOUGHTS. I NEED FOCUS AND PEACE. PLEASE CONTAIN YOURSELF, ALYSSA. PLEASE DO NOT LOSE YOUR COOL. THIS HIGH-PRESSURE SITUATION IS MAKING ME WANT TO GET ON A BOAT TO ANTARCTICA.

SAM: Easy there. The discussion of the book should begin here, if not earlier.

(Sam hasn’t read the book. He’s editing this piece. Although use of the third person here would seem to indicate that somebody else is editing this piece too TOM. That’s weird. I guess what I’m saying is that Alyssa and Steph wrote 20,000 words over three weeks on Bernadette in Gmail, then sent it to Tom and Sam asking them to fix it and make it a sure-fire internet hit of the sort that online lit mags specialize in, ie: TRULY EXCELLENT PROSE THAT KNOWS NO BOUNDS CONGRATULATIONS TO TROPMAG.COM. And then that reading and paring down three weeks worth of high-grade TRULY EXCELLENT THOUGHT AS IT ALWAYS IS HERE AT TROP would be pretty damn hard. Because who can tell the difference between good thoughts and bad thoughts these days?)

ALYSSA: We may have to send Tom to Antarctica.

SAM: (?)

ALYSSA: The book is about a lady who goes to Antarctica.

STEPH: PLEASE STOP LEAVING ME OUT OF THIS. I HAVE VALUABLE THOUGHTS TO CONTRIBUTE. I AM READY ANY TIME. JUST GIVE ME THREE WEEKS TO COMPOSE A 5,000-WORD EMAIL. THIS IS GOING TO BE A REALLY GOOD PIECE. JUST THINK THAT TEN YEARS AGO THE WORLD BEMOANED THE END OF LONGFORM WRITING. IMAGINE THAT. HA! NOT ON MY WATCH, LADIES.

TOM: And gentleMAN.

SAM: You mean MEN, right? I don’t get it. Are these inside jokes? Is there something I’m missing? Is the joke on me? Just get to the book already; I don’t want to keep asking questions, if only to halt the all the capitalization.

STEPH: PLEASE GIVE ME AN OPPORTUNITY TO REFER TO MY DOG SOON.

ALYSSA: Ok.

SAM: Alyssa, you might as well let Steph discuss her dog. I forfeit all editorial duties starting now, okay?

STEPH: Ok great.

(10, 000 words pass. Alyssa’s house floods and she moves to her sister’s couch. She and her sister commence one of those rare-for-adult-siblings periods of time during which they do all the daily stuff side by side the way they used to. Alyssa’s memory becomes roused: “Ah yes,” she thinks, “my sister does snore.” While—MEANWHILE—Steph and Tom, over day drinks at El Chavo, consult with an academic named Julianne who also read Where’d You Go, Bernadette and agreed with Steph and Tom’s assessment that it was A VERY GOOD BOOK REALLY WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW JUST TRUST US ENTIRELY WE DEMAND YOUR ACQUIESCENCE.)

ALYSSA and STEPH: We’re just going to come right out and say that you guys are not allowed to waste our 20,000-word effort entirely. Please, find it in yourself to make our words worthwhile.

(Sam and Tom, whose involvement with this piece was originally going to be peripheral—ie: INVOLVE PROOFREADING AND CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM BUT NOT DOMINATION—plunge into the depths of Alyssa and Steph’s exchange, employ their highest powers of THAT TECHNIQUE CALLED CUTTING EVERYTHING BUT THE BEST STUFF, and produce the following results.)

ALYSSA: Sea-foam green… suitcases bound for all-inclusive resorts… Full disclosure… the Iberostar Costa Dorada in the Dominican Republic… disguised as chick-lit… gender roles… digital age… psychiatrist reports, emergency room bills, school memos, live blogging posts… that soft-copy paper trail… banter among the gnats… cynical tirades… cruising around with ice cream…

STEPH: I drove to Phoenix Monday… nutty… my fiance turned the lights out… my friend texted… airplane novel… I went to Seattle… autographed copies… I like funny… the personal assistant in India… I’m gonna hit the sack…

ALYSSA: I’m at the gym on the elliptical… email from Audrey to Soo-Lin where she recounts the incident… B allegedly runs over A’s foot… A compares B to Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “You see her only from the waist up, driving past.”… I’ve got my Nook with me, very handy…  skirting protocol… emergency room bill totaling $1669.53… “visual inspection and basic neurological examination reveal no injury. Patient in acute emotional distress, demanded X-ray, Vicodin, and crutches”… the Princess and the Pea… moving Ice Cream the dog to the back seat, there’s no way they would have rode over A’s foot without noticing…

STEPH: I haven’t been to a gym since 2010… I don’t think gnats have any monopoly… “I googled Bernadette Fox. (Something I can’t believe I’ve waited until now to do, considering our unhealthy obsession with her!)”… the gnats are obsessed… conspiratorial… concerned with appearances… admit defeat… bold liar… troublemaker son… furious and detached… Actually, are you watching the new season of Arrested Development?… the why of the format…  I was enjoying myself… I could use a Manjula these days…

ALYSSA: If you happen upon a Manjula, please share her info. We could pool our money and just outsource this whole thing!

TOM: Holy crud.

SAM: Tom, is that line in the book? Or did Alyssa make it up? Or did you make it up? If Alyssa did, was she still on the elliptical when she wrote that?

TOM: I’d say it’s pretty safe to assume so. Though then again, I rarely exercise.

SAM: You didn’t answer my question.

TOM: Oh cool. I enjoyed working with you on this.

SAM: Me too. I think.

(And with that, the world recognizes that criticism has gone the way of SUSTAINED AEROBIC EXERCISE and defied the odds to return to splendor.)

Steph Cha is the author of Follow Her Home, a feminist hardboiled detective novel. She lives in Los Angeles and mothers a basset hound.

Tom Dibblee is Trop’s editor. His fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train and his nonfiction has appeared in Pacific Standard, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Point. He lives in Los Angeles.

Alyssa Vine lives in New York.