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An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England (2007)

by Brock Clarke

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1,5919011,126 (3)79
Fiction. Literature. Humor (Fiction.) HTML:Sam Pulsifer, the hapless hero of this incendiary novel, has come to the end of a very long and unusual journey, and for the second time in his life he has the time to think about all the things that have and have not come to pass.
The truth is, a lot of remarkable things have happened in Sam's life. He spent ten years in prison for accidentally burning down poet Emily Dickinson's house‚??and unwittingly killing two people in the process. He emerged at age twenty-eight and set about creating a new life‚??almost a new identity‚??for himself. He went to college, found love, got married, fathered two children, and made a new start‚??and then watched in almost-silent awe as the vengeful past caught up with him, right at his own front door.
As, one by one, the homes of other famous New England writers are torched, Sam knows that this time he is most certainly not the guilty one. To prove his innocence, he sets out to uncover the identity of this literary-minded arsonist. What he discovers, and how he deals with the reality of his discoveries, is both hilariously funny and heartbreakingly sad. For, as Sam learns, the truth has a way of eluding capture, and then, when you finally get close enough to embrace it, it turns and kicks you
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Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
Fabulous title and an interesting premise, writing is easy to read and follow, but ultimately unsatisfying. Sam Pulsifer (nice name choice, btw) is the unfortunate narrator, with an even more unfortunate history of killing two people accidentally in a house fire.

Thie is supposed to be funny in the way that "all of life is trying to kill me" sort of way, but I got only a few smirks out of this book, and no belly laughs. The guy is too pathetic. Laughing at him is, for me, like crushing a slug.

For those who like a pathetic anti-hero who has life continue to fall on him, this would be a fun read. It is well-written and makes internal sense. It simply isn't to my taste.

I did enjoy the series of people who really wanted to line up to burn down writer's homes. I would have liked more on why they felt so strongly about their destruction. Lots of funny stories in there.... ( )
  Dabble58 | Nov 11, 2023 |
Well, I completely agree with everyone who was annoyed by this novel, BUT I also completely agree with those who liked it. It was not a bad book by any means, though the plot seemed overly contrived and there are plenty, plenty of moments where you think, "Why doesn't he just tell the truth?" "Why didn't he just DO that?" and other moments that are similar to those in movie theaters showing horror movies. You want to yell (well, maybe I wasn't so passionate about the book to yell) at the screen and tell them what to do. Ugh. But! I thought the book held some great stuff, and, had the writing not been so ... heavy-handed, so treated-me-like-I'm-not-smart-enough-to-catch-on-without-having-things-over-explained-to-me-esque, perhaps I really would've felt strong emotions toward the especially beautiful writing in the last couple of pages.

However, I was affected by this book. In a good way. I DID enjoy it. Clarke has some good insights, there are some quotable lines, there is a lovable character or two in there (Sam's mother, for example), but I wish I could've gotten to know Sam better. I wish the MAIN character could've been more personalized, more attractive as a human being, more sympathetic. Regardless of all the negative criticism, though, I am glad I read this book. I was engaged in it (some times more than others ... another point I won't delve into is the consistency of the book on a few different levels), it really had some good stuff in it, and Clarke clearly is a talented writer.

Lastly, I'll say this: I think Clarke hits the reader over the head with/re-re-re-states things that are, to most, abundantly clear and obvious parts of the plot, but remains vague and slightly ambiguous on the emotional specificity and background of his main characters and their motives. And I always prefer character-richness to plot-richness (especially in cases such as these, where the plot is so ... plotty).

So, that's my mixed and all-over-the-place review of a novel that was, well, likewise, much the same. ( )
  ostbying | Jan 1, 2023 |
Overwritten for my taste--too purposefully eccentric, too self-conscious, too full of quirky 'wisdom'. ( )
  giovannaz63 | Jan 18, 2021 |
Plus the every illusive half star. I got the humor; I just got bored. ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
Plus the every illusive half star. I got the humor; I just got bored. ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
Eighty pages into this, his second novel, Brock Clarke takes a seeming swipe at his first. His narrator, Sam Pulsifer, is wandering through a bookstore when he begins to feel bad for fiction and poetry, those ‚Äúobsolete states‚ÄĚ that have been ‚Äúmostly gobbled up‚ÄĚ by the store‚Äôs memoir section, ‚Äúthe Soviet Union of literature.‚ÄĚ
 
‚ÄúAn Arsonist‚Äôs Guide‚ÄĚ contains sentences and images that could stand beside the works of the former owners of the literary residences put to flame.
 
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Epigraph
At the end of an hour we saw a far-away town sleeping in a valley by a winding river; and beyond it on a hill, a vast gray fortress, with towers and turrets, the first I had ever seen out of a picture.
"Bridgeport?" said I, pointing.
"Camelot," said he.
--Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
The memoirs written by the members of the Autobiographical Association...already had a number of factors in common. One of them was nostalgia, another was paranoia, a third was a transparent craving on the part of the authors to appear likeable. I think they probably lived out their lives on the principle that what they were, and did, and wanted, should above all look pretty. Typing out and making sense out of these compositions was an agony to my spirit until I hit on the method of making them expertly worse; and everyone concerned was delighted with the result.
--Muriel Spark, Loitering with Intent
Dedication
First words
I, Sam Pulsifer, am the man who accidentally burned down the Emily Dickinson House in Amherst, Massachusetts, and who in the process killed two people, for which I spent ten years in prison and, as letters from scholars of American literature tell me, for which I will continue to pay a high price long into the not-so-sweet hereafter.
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It is better to be wounded than to wound.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Fiction. Literature. Humor (Fiction.) HTML:Sam Pulsifer, the hapless hero of this incendiary novel, has come to the end of a very long and unusual journey, and for the second time in his life he has the time to think about all the things that have and have not come to pass.
The truth is, a lot of remarkable things have happened in Sam's life. He spent ten years in prison for accidentally burning down poet Emily Dickinson's house‚??and unwittingly killing two people in the process. He emerged at age twenty-eight and set about creating a new life‚??almost a new identity‚??for himself. He went to college, found love, got married, fathered two children, and made a new start‚??and then watched in almost-silent awe as the vengeful past caught up with him, right at his own front door.
As, one by one, the homes of other famous New England writers are torched, Sam knows that this time he is most certainly not the guilty one. To prove his innocence, he sets out to uncover the identity of this literary-minded arsonist. What he discovers, and how he deals with the reality of his discoveries, is both hilariously funny and heartbreakingly sad. For, as Sam learns, the truth has a way of eluding capture, and then, when you finally get close enough to embrace it, it turns and kicks you

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The novel centers on a man who accidentally burns down the home of Emily Dickinson, in the process killing a couple who were making love in her bed. During his years in prison, he and his family received volumes of fan mail asking that he also burn down other famous literary homes, such as those of Mark Twain and Nathaniel Hawthorne. After his release, someone begins to do just that, with the hero being forced to find out who wants to frame him by destroying the homes.
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