Saturday, August 16, 2008

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England 
by Brock Clarke
$16.29 in the Hansisgreat Gift Shop
ISBN: 1565125517
A strange comic mystery novel by a new author, this is the story of Sam Pulsifer, whose one-time slip up makes him the fall guy for an absurd crime spree. Intriguing from the first page, you'll laugh out loud while trying to unravel what's really going on in the complicated world of literary arson.
When he was eighteen years old, Sam accidentally burned down notable American poet Emily Dickinson's house, killing two people. He was sentenced to ten years in prison, and our story begins, like 
Les Miserables, when he's released at the age of twenty-eight.
He rebuilds his life, graduating from college as a packaging engineer, eventually marrying and becoming a loving father to two kids in a prosperous suburb called Camelot. His family has no idea about his nefarious past, a secret which soon comes back to haunt him.
He and his parents receive countless fan letters, asking him to burn down other writers' homes. These are people who, for some reason, have a grudge against Mark Twain or Nathanael Hawthorne. One day the son of the two people who died in his fire shows up on his front porch, 
looking for an apology and possibly revenge.
Naturally, things start to fall apart for poor Sam. His wife leaves him, taking the kids. His father lapses into a deep alcoholism and his mother disappears every night for parts unknown. As he tries to make sense of it all, a copycat arsonist starts burning down the homes of other famous American writers, and Sam becomes a natural target. His only path to redemption is discovering who the real arsonist is.
It's funny how a lifetime of misfortune seems to have sprung from one accident at the hands of a teenager. Everyone in Sam's life is losing their marbles, and as he tries to patch things up, they only become further unwound.
The mystery aspect of this book is quite engaging, but overall it's a comedy in the style of A Confederacy of Dunces. After all, who could really have a grudge against Willa Cather or Ernest Hemingway? Set in a quaint New England town, where skeletons are expected to stay in the closet, the story grows more hilariously absurd with each chapter thanks to the endless foibles of human nature. 
An Arsonist's Guide is a terrific new novel by an exciting new writer. Matches and gasoline not included.

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