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.