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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England: A Novel » User review

A few too many words short of better

  • Sep 30, 2008
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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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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #38
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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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, accidentally burned down the Emily Dickinson House in Amherst, Massachusetts, killing two people. ("It's probably enough to say that in the Massachusetts Mt. Rushmore of big gruesome tragedy, there are the Kennedys, and Lizzie Borden and her ax, and the burning witches at Salem, and then there's me.") After serving ten years in prison for the crime, Sam Pulsifer moves on with his life, but the emergence of a copycat who's turning New England's literary landmarks to ash puts Sam back in the spotlight and on a quest for the truth. Comparisons toThe World According to GarpandA Confederacy of Duncesmay be bold, but this heartfelt, funny, and highly entertaining tale promises to be Brock Clarke's breakout book for certain.--Brad Thomas Parsons
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Books, Fiction, Humorous Fiction, Literary Fiction, Dark Humor Books, New England Fiction


ISBN-10: 1565125517
ISBN-13: 978-1565125513
Author: Brock Clarke
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Algonquin Books
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