#415 ~ An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England

An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke

Published by: Algonquin Books

Published on: September 2007

Page Count: 317

Genre: Fiction

My Reading Format: eBook purchased during Algonquin Books’ February Lucky 7 Sale

Available Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

My Review

During Algonquin Book’s first Lucky 7 eBook sale, I noticed that An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England was one of the selected titles. I snatched it up. So did Cassandra. Since we’d both been wanting to read it, we decided to put together an informal read-a-long. A few other readers signed on to join us during the week of March 12th. We were all looking forward to it. Cassandra even published a fun post about some of the writer’s homes in the book. I’m not sure any of us knew what kind of a ride we had in store.

Imagine being the person responsible for burning a sacred literary landmark to the ground and then returning to that same small town after serving your prison sentence. This is a novel that could have been so much. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to its potential. Sam Pulsifer, was a combination of Amelia Bedelia and a schizophrenic. I normally enjoy unreliable narrators, but his stories are so out there at times that I couldn’t make sense of them. Improbably people showed up at improbable times. Probably people did improbable things. There were times when I felt that I was on the cusp of understanding Sam, but ultimately I gave up.

There were some interesting aspects to An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England. When Sam went to prison, he received letters from many people expressing an interest in having him burn down a writer’s house near them. I’ve never lived near a similar landmark. Before reading this novel, I had never thought to consider the impact a nearby historical landmark might have on one’s life. There was also a scene with Professor Ardor that occurred after a fire was set to the Mark Twain house that made me laugh out loud. It was a spark of genius that, while not replicated again in the book, made the book worth reading for me. I have had college professors like Lees Ardor and I could relate to the surreal experience Sam had in her classroom.

While An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England did not work for me as a whole, Brock Clarke showed promise within the pages. It would definitely be worth looking at his next novel.

Here is what other read-a-long participants have to say:

Serena from Savvy Verse & Wit
Cassandra from Indie Reader Houston


  • At 2012.03.23 02:25, Kristen M. said:

    I’m glad that I’m not the only one who wasn’t totally blown away by this book. I felt guilty when I didn’t like it because almost everyone else was raving. Sam was just too unbelievably stupid and annoying. If you want to read my almost two year old review, here it is —

    • At 2012.03.23 06:25, Serena said:

      Looks like we enjoyed the same moment in the book! I really just couldn’t wrap my head around what this character’s motivations were or how he justified the things he did…and were some of these people even real or imagined. I just couldn’t love this one…I felt the tangents were pointless and frustrating.

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        • At 2012.03.23 10:59, Ti said:

          Now this one sounds interesting… like something I would like. But you thinking that it didn’t live up to its potential concerns me.

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          • At 2012.03.23 12:43, Cassandra said:

            Also a member of the not-blown-away club. I hadn’t thought about it either (not even when I read), but you’re right that it makes an interesting point about the impact that historical landmarks have on people living there today. I also enjoyed discussion of books and readers. That was good. Best part was interview after the book was officially over. Now that was funny!

            • At 2012.03.23 14:28, bermudaonion (Kathy) said:

              I’m sorry this didn’t live up to it’s promise.

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