The dusty files of a venerable dictionary publisher . . . a hidden cache of coded clues . . . a story written by a phantom author . . . an unsolved murder in a gritty urban park–all collide memorably in Emily Arsenault’s magnificent debut, at once a teasing literary puzzle, an ingenious suspense novel, and an exploration of definitions: of words, of who we are, and of the stories we choose to define us.
In the maze of cubicles at Samuelson Company, editors toil away in silence, studying the English language, poring over new expressions and freshly coined words–all in preparation for the next new edition of the Samuelson Dictionary. Among them is editorial assistant Billy Webb, just out of college, struggling to stay awake and appear competent. But there are a few distractions. His intriguing coworker Mona Minot may or may not be flirting with him. And he’s starting to sense something suspicious going on beneath this company’s academic facade.
Mona has just made a startling discovery: a trove of puzzling citations, all taken from the same book, The Broken Teaglass. Billy and Mona soon learn that no such book exists. And the quotations from it are far too long, twisting, and bizarre for any dictionary. They read like a confessional, coyly hinting at a hidden identity, a secret liaison, a crime. As Billy and Mona ransack the office files, a chilling story begins to emerge: a story about a lonely young woman, a long-unsolved mystery, a moment of shattering violence. And as they piece together its fragments, the puzzle begins to take on bigger personal meaning for both of them, compelling them to redefine their notions of themselves and each other.
Charged with wit and intelligence, set against a sweetly cautious love story, The Broken Teaglass is a tale that will delight lovers of words, lovers of mysteries, and fans of smart, funny, brilliantly inventive fiction.
How did a guy like me end up in a place like this?
Excellent question. It’s the very question that ran through my mind on my first day on the job, and for many weeks hence. How the hell did I get a job at the offices of Samuelson Company, the oldest and most revered name in American dictionaries? In the end, this might strike you as the greater mystery—greater than the one I’d later find in the company’s dusty files: How does a clod like me end up in training to be a lexicographer?
Now that you’ve paused to look up lexicographer, are you impressed? Are you imagining lexicographers as a council of cloaked, wizened men rubbing their snowy-white beards while they consult their dusty folios? I’m afraid you might have to adjust your thinking just a little. Imagine instead a guy right out of college—a guy who says yup, and watches too much Conan O’Brien. Imagine this guy sitting in a cubicle, shuffling through little bits of magazine articles, hoping for words like boink and tatas to cross his desk and spice up his afternoons.
Don’t get me wrong. When I first got the job, I was pretty excited. I’d been starting to doubt my employability, since I’d majored in philosophy. Admittedly, I’d applied for publishing jobs on a whim, having heard some English majors talk about it. No one at the big New York companies bit at my résumé, but someone at Samuelson must have liked all the A’s on my transcript in heady-seeming topics like Kant and Kierkegaard, and they called me just in time—just as I was starting to thumb through pamphlets about the Peace Corps and teaching English in Japan. My interview was with one Dan Wood, a pale, bearded middle-aged guy who didn’t really seem to know how to conduct an interview. He mostly just described the defining process quietly, peering at me occasionally as if trying to gauge my reaction. I guess I didn’t make any funny faces, because two days later Dan called me to offer the job.
Emily Arsenault has worked as a lexicographer, an English teacher, a children’s librarian, and a Peace Corps volunteer. She wrote The Broken Teaglass to pass the long, quiet evenings in her mud brick house while living in rural South Africa. She now lives in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, with her husband. You can visit Emily Arsenault’s website at http://emilyarsenault.com/.