Using the hundred simple words of a word-association test as starting points for its hundred chapters, Canadian Schoemperlen's debut novel demonstrates why it's probably better to avoid such gimmicks altogether--here, a hundred brilliantly written separate episodes turn into one long and sadly stagnant narrative. The story centers on the life and memories of Joanna, a young woman who lives in an unspecified city in southeastern Ontario. An only child, Joanna grew up waiting for the time when she could escape her parents, bitter Esther and ineffectual Clarence, escape her childhood home with its plaid dinner plates and gold-flecked table, and begin to make her own life as an artist. When she finally does leave home, she stumbles through a couple of unsatisfactory relationships--first with Henry, who's something of a loser; then with Lewis, who's married--before she settles down with steady Gordon and gives birth to baby Samuel. These are the simple facts, and the trouble is we've learned them all by the end of the first chapter. The next 99 circle back over the same territory, adding description (Henry had smelly feet; Lewis's wife, Wanda, still sucks her thumb), filling in detail (how Joanna lost her virginity; what Samuel's birth was like), and pondering the still unanswered and unanswerable questions--what, for example, turned Esther into such an unhappy woman? Schoemperlen knows all the right questions to ask, her writing is wonderfully evocative and true, and the materials for Joanna's story are all here--but the story itself gives up and collapses on its own flat surface. With no forward momentum, the circle of events becomes like one of those dreams in which you can never get where you want to go--powerful, sure, but endless. Better in pieces than as a whole: bright shards from a promising writer who shouldn't be afraid to hammer together a real structure next time.