‘The Broken Teaglass’ Needs Patient Reader

by Mindy Borie
Columnist

Amazon recommended Emily Arsenault’s “The Broken Teaglass” to me and, because I have attention deficit disorder when it comes to books, I put it on my wish list. By the time I got it for my birthday in December, I had completely forgotten what it was about. I actually almost prefer it this way, because it gives me a clean slate to start on. The surprises get to actually be surprises, and I love surprises. Man, was I ever surprised.

It’s the story of a young man named Billy who has just graduated with a philosophy degree and taken a job at a dictionary company. As he’s responding to a letter from the public — one of the few instances of comic relief in this book is the inclusion of letters asking questions about word usage — he comes across a fragment of a story and instantly his life changes. He and his co-worker Mona Minot take it upon themselves to track down the rest of the story. As they uncover more about it, it seems to be true, which may be the most disturbing part of all.

“The Broken Teaglass” got off to a slow start other than the prologue, which was one of those fashionably confusing flashes from later in the story. This prologue was clearly included just for effect, because I made it through the rest of the book without ever thinking of it again, though if I think about it I can place it in the narrative. I didn’t find the characters or their situations all that likeable early on, and I was perplexed by how nothing seemed to be happening.

For the first 75 or so pages, I had no idea what was going on — not because it was so confusing, but because it didn’t seem to have much in terms of going on. I started to work up a real dislike of the book. Then, all of a sudden (I can’t say exactly when), I started to care. I got sucked in. I still wasn’t sure what was happening, but I was interested. I stayed that way for the rest of the 370-page book.

I’m still not altogether sure what I found to like after the early parts of this book, or, more specifically, what changed. The writing was the same — simple prose, nothing special; the characters were their same bizarre selves, the mystery that embroils them not much more interesting with the addition of more details.

And yet I did find something to like. By the time I came to the end of the book, I cared for these fictional people. The low-key mystery they set out to solve became intriguing to me and even managed to throw me a curve or two. I stayed up until 2 in the morning to finish. That isn’t something one does for a boring or unlikeable book.

There is something about this book, like the meta-story found within it, which is delicate and slowly unfolding in a way that starts out tedious but gradually grows on you. This is a book for readers with patience. It isn’t for people who need an action-packed plot to be interested. Those people would be disappointed. But for the open-minded reader, this genre-bender of a book has its benefits.

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