“How does a clod like me end up in training to be a lexicographer?”
Billy has landed a job at Samuelson Dictionary Company, researching new words, defining a few for the annual Supplement, and answering letters and phone calls that come in from inquiring patrons. He stumbles upon a mystery in the reference files, and slowly, with help from the petite lexicographical prodigy Mona Minot, puts it together.
There are two very distinct elements to this book. One is the life of Billy, newly out of college, struggling with the ramifications of a past illness, and starting a new job in an… unusual company. Arsenault writes beautifully about words and the love of language any lexicographer must have. She also writes with a sweet irony and understanding of the intergenerational conflict – one generation fought in Korea, the next in Vietnam, and these days (while many servicemen and women have fought and died in the Middle East) most young people are concerned with the next i-gadget.
The book was full of lines just begging to be quoted, so here they are:
“I’d been starting to doubt my employability, since I’d majored in philosophy”
“Eat dessert first.”
“Lexicographers rarely make messes”
“Still, I resigned myself to the stern presence of my fellow word mavens.”
“I think you may be the only Black Label-guzzling lexicographer on God’s great earth.”
(I’ll stop now. You get the idea.) I loved the constant references to words and word play and the life of lexicographers, trying to pin down Language.
The other side of the book was the mystery that Billy and Mona discover in the reference files and I was much less taken with this. It is doled out so slowly, and Billy and Mona are the only strongly constructed characters, so the involvement of other people was difficult to grasp because I didn’t have a good sense of who those people were.
A decent read, not one I’m sure I’d go out of my way to seek.