An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke
Published by: Algonquin Books
Published on: September 2007
Page Count: 317
My Reading Format: eBook purchased during Algonquin Books’ February Lucky 7 Sale
Available Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook
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: