Wednesday, September 05, 2007

arsonist's guide....

I just finished "The Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England" by Brock Clarke
Sam Pulsifer is a bumbler. He bumbles his way through life, never quite getting it right. For instance, Sam burned down the Emily Dickinson House when he was a teenager, and served 10 years in prison for the accidental deaths of the two people who were trysting on Emily's bed inside. After Sam was released, his parents sent him to college, where he met a nice girl, got married and started a family. Sam moved away from the scene of his crime to a nearby suburb, where he never got around to telling Anne Marie the truth about his past, although he did tell her some lies, including that his own parents had been killed in a house fire. In constrast, Thomas Coleman, who shows up one day at Sam's front door, really did lose his parents in a house fire, the same fire that Sam Pulsifer accidentally started many years ago. Thomas swears revenge on Sam's apathetic apology for accideintally starting the blaze, and suddenly Sam's life is turned upside down. As more fires are started around New England -- the Edward Bellamy House, Mark Twain's place, the Robert Frost Home - Sam is kept busy trying to track down the arsonists and clear his name. A bumbler through and through, Sam seeks the culprit while avoiding the questions of the official detective on the case, and discovers more truths than he wanted to find.

Brock Clarke gives us Ironic self-referential fiction with elitist literary references, slow pacing, and painfully awkward characters each bumbling through their own depressingly realistic and unfulfilled lives- and I mean that in the best possible way. His writing is scattered with humor and humility across a large expanse of musing and self-doubt, reaction and drunkeness. The novel toucheso n themes like the effect of literature and stories on our lives, truth and fiction, love, loss and the meaning of life. The ultimate question, implicit in the book's title, is "why would anyone want to burn down writers' houses in New England?", or anywhere else for that matter, and what I discovered was that it is a very personal question.
Highly recommended, but only if anything in my description sounded interesting to you.
I read an ARC, but the book should have been published yesterday. 320 pages.


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