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An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England: A Novel

1 rating: 1.0
A book by Brock Clarke

Amazon Best of the Month, August 2007: InAn Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New Englan, the quirkiest title for a book sinceSpecial Topics in Calamity Physics, Brock Clarke lights up the page with the chronicle of a man who, as a teenager, … see full wiki

Tags: Books, Fiction, Humorous Fiction, Literary Fiction, Dark Humor Books, New England Fiction
Author: Brock Clarke
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Algonquin Books
1 review about An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in...

A few too many words short of better

  • Sep 30, 2008
  • by
The back-cover praise quotes for this book are effusive about its "heartbreakingly hilarious" humor, adventure, and darkly-comic tragedy. I saw some humor, some tragedy, some story, but not enough for such extravagant praise.

Mostly what I saw was a writer trying too hard to reach for those things, and coming up a few too many words short. Interestingly, in the acknowledgment, Clarke thanks several journals for publishing parts of the novel "often in dramatically different form," which perhaps accounts for the feeling I have that this reads more like a novel that could have been edited into a short story or a small collection of short stories to better effect. Think Steven Millhauser (The Barnum Museum (American Literature Series)) without the skill to say as much in fewer words.

An Arsonist's Guide . . . reads as a memoir of Sam Pulsifer, a self-described "bumbler" who accidentally burns down Emily Dickenson's landmark New England house, and serves ten years in prison for the arson and the two accidental deaths in the fire. Out of prison, Sam tries to put his behind in the past, but his mistakes and family history keep rising up to meet him in the ultimate anti-"Hakuna matada".

There are moments of dark humor and insight into the human condition, but not enough to raise this above three stars.

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