We’ve had some tough times, lately, so when I looked at my TBR pile (composed primarily of history, science, and literature), I sighed. I just didn’t have the verve to crack one of those. I needed something fun, something fresh, something…easier. So, when a friend recommended Emily Arsenault’s The Broken Teaglass as a fun, engaging read, I jumped at the chance.
I’m glad I did.
The Broken Teaglass is Arsenault’s debut novel, and it has the kind of individuality and quirkiness that makes ardent fans of first-time readers.
Drawing on her own personal experience as a lexicographer, Arsenault has set this story in the editorial offices of a major dictionary publisher. The protagonists, Billy and Mona, are junior editors in the venerable firm of Samuelson Company. They are young, smart, attractive, and in the first pages you think you know where this is going–
But you don’t.
–for this book is not your standard mystery. In fact, I hesitate to label it a mystery because it isn’t filled with the standard tropes and baggage that come with that label. It has no detectives, no cops, no bodies in the courtyard. It has no red herrings, no clever misdirection, and no “reveal” at the end. But The Broken Teaglass does have a mystery. Hidden in the stacks of word citations that are the centerpiece of the dictionary’s editorial offices, Billy and Mona happen upon a clue to a thirty-year old secret. Once they get a taste of it, their humdrum routines of updating old definitions and fielding grammatical inquiries take a back seat as the pair Scooby-Doo their way to uncovering the length and breadth of the company’s secret.
Don’t think, though, that this book is just a romp. It’s fun, to be sure, especially for wordsmiths and lovers of words, but Arsenault breaks with convention at nearly every turn. Her characters aren’t heroic, but are unassuming, unusual, and full of personal history. The setting is neither gritty nor glamorous, but rather is the sort of mundane work-a-day place in which most of us find ourselves.
Arsenault has eschewed the flash and hand-waving of standard genre fare, and instead presents us with several mysteries at once; aside from the main mystery, there are the puzzles of who Billy and Mona are, why they are who they are, and how they got to where they are. Young and untried, relatively new to the “adult” world, the protagonists still have pasts that have molded their personalities. Surrounding these two are the mysteries of the other characters, the “old guard” at the editorial offices, and of who knows what, and how much.
The Broken Teaglass is not without faults. Arsenault’s timing is off in places, and the language is occasionally a bit affected. For me, also, the actions and thoughts of main male protagonist rang a bit false at certain points, as if he just didn’t add up. These are small points, however, passed over in a moment.
In the end, The Broken Teaglass is a fun read, engaging and fresh, from a promising new writer.