Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Review: The Broken Teaglass [2009]

I was very keen to read The Broken Teaglass when I first heard about it. After all, it has a lot of elements that I find appealing: lexicography, mystery, and local interest--the author currently lives in nearby Shelburne Falls and worked at Merriam-Webster, right up the street from the central library in Springfield. Despite the fact that first-person narrator Billy, a recent college graduate with a secret in his past, is male, a lot of the narrative details seem drawn from Emily Arsenault's own experience. The details of lexicographical work at the "Samuelson Company" certainly do not disappoint, and in many ways the public service aspect (Billy and a co-worker field calls and letters from inquiring dictionary users for definitions and clarifications) reminded my of my own job as a reference librarian. However, I have some lingering uncertainty as to the lasting power of the "mystery" itself. Billy and his co-worker Mona fall into a friendship as they pursue the curious citations from a non-existent novel called The Broken Teaglass, which seems to be about some former Samuelson employee's deadly encounter. As they learn more about each other, and work to uncover what happened in 1985, it becomes clear that the novel is less about the mystery itself than about Billy's struggle to find a place for himself in the post-college world. I have certainly read my share of twentysomething angst books disguised as genre fiction (The Magicians comes to mind as a recent example), and that wasn't really what I was looking for here. However, I have already used at least one quote in conversation:
"Oh, Billy," she said, opening her door. "Don't hate words. Hate the people who misuse them."
Overall, I found the book engaging and its premise fascinating, despite the fact that the narrative sometimes seemed to be backtracking.

Grade: B

Random Thoughts: What happened to the character of Tommy? He seemed so present and mysterious in the first half of the book, and then appeared only briefly in the second act as an ex machina character to move the plot along.

Why didn't Billy and Mona ever pursue the question of where Mary Anne went after she left Samuelson?

I doubt I will ever open a dictionary and not think of this book.

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