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

by Brock Clarke

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1,477889,315 (2.98)79
As a teenager, it was never Sam Pulsifer's intention to torch an American landmark, and he certainly never planned to kill two people in the blaze. To this day, he still wonders why that young couple was upstairs in bed in the Emily Dickinson House after hours. After serving ten years in prison for his crime, Sam is determined to put the past behind him. He finishes college, begins a career, falls in love, gets married, has two adorable kids, and buys a home. His low-profile life is chugging along quite nicely until the past comes crashing through his front door. As the homes of Robert Frost, Edith Wharton, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and even a replica of Henry David Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond, go up in smoke, Sam becomes the number one suspect. Finding the real culprit is the only way to clear his name--but sometimes there's a terrible price to pay for the truth.… (more)
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» See also 79 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 88 (next | show all)
Overwritten for my taste--too purposefully eccentric, too self-conscious, too full of quirky 'wisdom'. ( )
  giovannaz63 | Jan 18, 2021 |
When you're 1/3 of the way through a book and the best thing so far is the title, it's probably best to abandon it. ( )
3 vote | Robertgreaves | May 7, 2019 |
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 |
I've been looking forward to reading this forever. The premise is very unique, the writer is very talented and the book engages you from the beginning but the plot is utterly depressing and beyond disappointing. ( )
  lovelypenny | Feb 4, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 88 (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 “obsolete states” that have been “mostly gobbled up” by the store’s memoir section, “the Soviet Union of literature.”
 
“An Arsonist’s Guide” 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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As a teenager, it was never Sam Pulsifer's intention to torch an American landmark, and he certainly never planned to kill two people in the blaze. To this day, he still wonders why that young couple was upstairs in bed in the Emily Dickinson House after hours. After serving ten years in prison for his crime, Sam is determined to put the past behind him. He finishes college, begins a career, falls in love, gets married, has two adorable kids, and buys a home. His low-profile life is chugging along quite nicely until the past comes crashing through his front door. As the homes of Robert Frost, Edith Wharton, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and even a replica of Henry David Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond, go up in smoke, Sam becomes the number one suspect. Finding the real culprit is the only way to clear his name--but sometimes there's a terrible price to pay for the truth.

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Book description
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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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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