Today in my ESL classes, we did an exercise using their vocabulary journals (when they run across a new word, they write it down to define it). They had to take ten words and write sentences using the words correctly. Then we hashed out the meanings and usages to correct any problems. One student used the word neglect, and as I wrote the different uses, I stopped to really look at the word. It’s suddenly looked strange and foreign to me. I’ve always done this. Some words, when you really look at them or think about them, are very odd, and The Broken Teaglass takes that strangeness to a whole new level.
Billy goes to work for the Samuelson Dictionary company, and it’s as eccentric a place as you can imagine. The first day he is set to read the front matter of the dictionary and listens as the man next to him answers phone calls from old women and an occasional blowhard who wants to be proven right about a particular word. The atmosphere is oppressive in its silence and in the words that are, literally, everywhere. To verify definitions, pronunciations, and usage, each editor must consult the cits, citations gathered from books, magazines, and newspapers.
Mona, another editor, finds one cit very different from the others. It’s longer and seems to describe Samuelson itself, and it has a hint of violence in it. She’s intrigued but cannot find the book listed anywhere. When she runs across another with a darker tinge to it, she enlists Billy’s help, and the two begin a journey to put together the story of the broken teaglass.
This is a strange little book, as there is no mystery in the traditional sense – no dead body with a murderer or murderess to hunt down. As citations are gathered, both Billy and Mona, as well as the reader, have a fairly good idea of why the citations are there, as a sort of hushed Catholic confessional. However, the story amid the story has an emotional charge that really struck me, and I really loved that Billy and Mona piece together the story for themselves, not altogether sure what they’ll find or why they must find it.