Clarke, Brock. An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2007. Summary
: Sam Pulsifer came to his infamy early in life--when he burned down the Emily Dickinson House in his native Amherst. And although he subsequently got married and had kids, he never told anyone his secret. Then one day, his secret returns to haunt him as other famous New England writers' homes start burning down around his ears. Sam tries to solve the mystery of these new incidences arson, but it may not be enough to save his marriage. Comments
: Okay, so you'd think that a book with a title like An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England
would be funny, right? I thought so, too, and things were promising, at least at first, with the loads of literary in-joking and too true characterizations of the Pioneer Valley. But then, as Sam heads deeper into the mysteries of the chain of arson attempts in the region, the book begins to devolve into post-modern mockery of the various writers in question whose houses are being subjected to the (very fictional) torch. By the very end, when we learn that the main culprit--in most everything that has gone wrong with his family's life--is his dad's long-time lover Deirdre, the tone is just bleak. His mom has killed his dad, and he has watched Deirdre kill herself. And Sam? He's doing twenty to life in medium-security prison while his wife and kids live with the man whose parents Sam mistakenly killed when he set fire to the Emily Dickinson House all those years ago. The only hope he has left is to someday get paroled and go back to living with his mother, the man-child forevermore. Good grief; I would vomit if I could rouse myself from my now-depressed stupor. What a waste of a talent for good, evocative prose. Rating
- So disappointing when post-modern mockery devolves into barely-veiled, Oedipal bitterness about life. Yep, disappointing 'bout sums it up.