There are some elements of mystery in Emily Arsenault's debut novel. There are definitely "literary" elements, with the focus on words and description. It's difficult to "define" The Broken Teaglass, an oddly compelling book.
Billy Webb, just out of college, takes a job at Samuelson Company, the oldest name in American dictionaries, in Claxton, Massachusetts. He had been a philosophy major, and found his way to this quiet company where he was given assignments to read about the dictionary and words, but never introduced to the staff. His boss, Dan Wood, mentored him, telling him about answering letters about words and definitions, and pointing out the cit files, a giant set of old-fashioned catalogues, filled with citations, cards to consult, that were rumoured to go back 100 years.
Billy doesn't know what to make of his job, but he's the one who discovers an odd citation, pointing it out to co-worker Mona Minot. One of the entries is from a book called The Broken Teaglass, dated 1985, but when Mona investigates, she can't find that book. She and Billy do discover a link to the citations themselves, and they think they recognize Samuelsons in the citations. This would have been just an interesting story, if Billy hadn't began to suspect he knows some of the people in the pieces of story. And, when some of the definitions hint at blood and a shared secret, Billy and Mona know they have to dig deeper into the secrets in the cit files.
"Secrets in the cit files." Sounds like a Nancy Drew mystery, doesn't it? But, this is the story of two young people looking for answers for their own lives, as well as the story of a woman who worked there years earlier. Billy tells the story, but he keeps the secrets of his own past from Mona, not sure if he should ever tell her. The Broken Teaglass is a story of lost possibilities, a lost past, and two young people unsure how they themselves will cope with their own past, and write their own future. Who ever thought the stories hidden in a dictionary company could be so fascinating? Emily Arsenault's The Broken Teaglass reveals the hidden depths in the quietest people and places.
Emily Arsenault's website is www.emilyarsenault.com
The Broken Teaglass by Emily Arsenault. Random House, ©2009. ISBN 9780553807332 (hardcover), 384p.