Tag Archives: “At A Loss For Words”

AT A LOSS FOR WORDS by Diane Schoemperlen

Vacation read #2 was At A Loss For Words by Diane Schoemperlen.

Diane This book is about a successful writer in her late 40s who re-meets the first love of her life, thirty years later. When she was a teenager, they had dated feverishly, but it ended when he moved away.  After he comes back into her life much later, the two strike up a romance that is carried out mostly via email.

The story of At A Loss For Words is rather simple: woman gets man, woman works hard to keep man, woman loses man. The reader learns early on that the relationship didn’t last, so there is a sense of foreboding throughout the whole book. It’s like watching a train wreck that you know is about to happen – you know it’s coming, you can see all the signs, but you can’t do anything except watch and wince.

What’s interesting, and ultimately redeeming, about At A Loss For Words is Schoemperlen’s exploration of modern communication – mostly email – and how constant connectedness and our 24/7 culture create pitfalls in relationships, such as misinterpretations, crossed signals, and the great ability for self-delusion. For example, the writer in At A Loss For Words, who suffers terrible writer’s block while at the same relaying this doomed relationship in great detail, discusses the ellipses her love interest intersperses throughout his emails:

They were maddening. I would stare and stare and stare at them, as if they were a kind of hieroglyphics or Morse code that I would be able to decipher eventually if only I tried hard enough. But trying to read between the dots was even more exasperating than trying to read between the lines, even more impossible than trying to make sense of those emails from strangers that are just long nonsensical lists of unconnected words. I would peer and peer and peer at your dots, trying to figure out all you weren’t saying, all you were withholding, all you were hiding, al the secrets you were keeping from me, all your sins of omission.

There is a plot twist at the end that is particularly momentous, but which Schoemperlen introduces so subtly, so quietly, that it made me wonder if I had read it right. Most of the reviews I have read of this book don’t even mention it, which I find very odd, because it sheds the whole relationship in a new light. I’d love to know if anyone has read this book and what they thought of the twist.

In all, I thought this was a worthwhile read. Schoemperlen is an excellent writer and observer of relationships and language. For anyone who has suffered through an ambiguous relationship with someone who doesn’t respond as you want them to (and who hasn’t?), there are passages in this book that will ring painfully and powerfully true.  I must confess that I didn’t know anything about Schoemperlen before reading this book – she’s Canadian and I hadn’t heard of her before. But I am definitely glad that I read it.

AT A LOSS FOR WORDS by Diane Schoemperlen

First – for those of you who are planning to join the online book club for The Post-BIrthday World, I am moving the date of the online book club to Monday March 10. This should give people a little more time to finish the book.

Second, a quick note – the NYT Book Review had an excellent review yesterday of James Collins’ Beginner’s Greek. (I posted about this book in January.) The review is worth a read.

And finally, a new find: The Savvy Reader (who also posts at My Tragic Right Hip) reviewed Diane Schoemperlen’s At A Loss For Words back in September. From her review:

DianeIt’s a swift, slight novel about a middle-aged woman who suffers from writer’s block brought on by the devastating end to a love affair with a man she had first fallen for over thirty years ago.

As the narrator works her way through crossword puzzles and self-help writerly books intended to break the curse of the block, she tells the story of the relationship with a comical and somewhat cynical edge that ensures the novel hits that sweet spot between literary and commercial fiction. As most of their relationship took place over email, with the two main characters living in different, undefined, cities, it’s a wordy novel, which really works. And the irony of being wordy while working through writer’s block isn’t lost on the protagonist.

The Savvy Reader also has an interview with Diane Schoemperlen. I particularly liked this question and answer about the use of email as a narrative method in the book:

DM: The format of the novel is so refreshing. Were you influenced by forms of modern communication?

DS: Definitely. One of the most important themes of the novel is the whole question of communication. The narrator is a writer…she is a communicator. After she becomes involved with this man, she is stricken by a serious case of writer’s block. She loses her ability to communicate with anyone but him, and he’s not talking back! The phenomenon of an email romance is particular to our age. The medium is quick, easy, accessible and immediate. But it has its limitations too, as the characters in the book soon discover. And it has its dangers. You can read an email over and over again, interpreting it in as many different ways as you like, trying to read between the lines and, as often as not, getting it all wrong! You can say all kinds of things in an email that you probably wouldn’t say if you were face to face. Once an email is sent, you cannot take it back!

I’d like to read this book.