Schoemperlen's work is characterized by experimentation with form. In her early work, Schoemperlen combines experimentation with stories of the everyday lives of working-class women. While using such wordplay techniques as telling a story in point form or with multiple-choice questions, Schoemperlen places her characters in ordinary situations, and with common problems such as depression or unhappy relationships. Her first book, Double Exposures (1984), which combined family photos with text, was shortly followed by her short-story collections Frogs and other Stories in 1986 and Hockey Night in Canada in 1987. A fourth collection of short stories, Man of My Dreams (1990), nominated for a GOVERNOR GENERAL'S AWARD, continues this theme of conventional lives told in unconventional narrative forms.
In the Language of Love (1994), Schoemperlen's first novel, uses the 100 stimulus words of the standard psychological Word Association Test to tell the story of Joanna, a collage artist, from her childhood through her relationships with men to her marriage and motherhood. The novel was produced as a theatre play in Kingston and Toronto.
Schoemperlen is also an editor of note, having edited a collection of women's writing, Vital Signs: New Women Writers in Canada, published in 1987, and another collection, entitled Coming Attractions '96. She co-edited Coming Attractions '95 with writer Douglas Glover, and The Journey Prize Anthology: Short Fiction from the Best of Canada's New Writers (2003) with Andre Alexis and Derek McCormack.
Some of Schoemperlen's more recent work is concerned with various expressions of faith. Her short-story collection Forms of Devotion (1998), which won the Governor General's Award, tells of the ways in which "the faithful" use their faith as shields to enable them to carry out the challenges of everyday life. Her second novel, Our Lady of the Lost and Found (2001), tells of a middle-aged writer who is visited in her home by Mary, the mother of God, whose surprising ordinariness leads the writer to examine the history of Mary's veneration. These examinations of faith are often ironic, told by narrators who are not members but outsiders to the Church.
Schoemperlen often plays with the relationship between truth and fiction. Many of her characters tell stories about themselves, that are later seen as incorrect or slightly exaggerated. Red Plaid Shirt: Stories New and Collected (2003) examines memory and the ways in which characters make sense of their own lives, while Names of the Dead: An Elegy to Victims of September 11 (2004) offers a compelling example of how collective memory can be created out of the facts of individual lives.
Author COLLEEN ADDISON