Synopses & Reviews
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 is 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 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 in the ass.
In the league of such contemporary classics as A Confederacy of Dunces, Catch-22, Little Big Man, and The World According to Garp, An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England is an original and exciting work - a novel disguised as a memoir; a mystery that cloaks itself in humor; an artful piece of literature that bites the hand that breeds it. A heartbreaking story about truth and honesty and the damage they do, it's above all a massive piece of entertainment that will make you think and make you care.
"Clarke's fourth book (after the story collection Carrying the Torch) is the delightfully dark story of Sam Pulsifer, the "accidental arsonist and murderer" narrator who leads readers through a multilayered, flame-filled adventure about literature, lies, love and life. Growing up in Amherst, Mass., with an editor for a father and an English teacher for a mother, Sam was fed endless stories that fueled (literally and figuratively) the rest of his life. Thus, the blurred boundaries between fact and fiction, story and reality become the landscape for amusing and provocative adventures that begin when, at age 18, Sam accidentally torches the Emily Dickinson Homestead, killing two people. After serving 10 years, Sam tries to distance himself from his past through college, employment, marriage and fatherhood, but he eventually winds up back in his parents' home, separated from his wife and jobless. When more literary landmarks go up in flames, Sam is the likely suspect, and his determination to find the actual arsonist uncovers family secrets and more than a bit about human nature. Sam is equal parts fall guy and tour guide in this bighearted and wily jolt to the American literary legacy. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] refreshing send-up of the self-indulgent memoir, with a cast of characters by turns tragic and absurd." Booklist
"Clarke...has created a character feebly struggling against fate in a situation both sad and funny, believable and preposterous." Library Journal
"A serious novel that is often very funny and will be a page-turning pleasure for anyone who loves literature." Kirkus Reviews
"Brock Clarke is our generation's Richard Ford, destined to be as influential and as celebrated. And his arsonist, Sam Pulsifer, is an Everyman surburban nomad, a literary misadventurer who is as insightful and doomed as he is heartbreakingly hilarious. I love this book" Heidi Julavits, author of The Uses of Enchantment
"This is a sad, funny, absurd, and incredibly moving novel. Its comic mournnfulness, its rigorous, breakneck narrative, delight....Clarke [has] given us a wonderful book about life, literature, and the anxieties of their influence." Sam Lipsyte, author of Home Land
"While I was reading this dark, funny, tragic novel, I would look at the people around me and feel sorry for them because they weren't occupying the same world I was; they weren't living as I was, inside the compelling, off-kilter atmosphere of Brock Clarke's pages. This is the best book I've read in a long time." Carolyn Parkhurst, author of The Dogs of Babel
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.
An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England is a tour de force a novel disguised as a memoir, a mystery that cloaks itself in humor, and an artful piece of literature that bites the hand that breeds it.
It may not have been Sam Pulsifer's intention to torch the Emily Dickinson House, but he served ten years in prison for his crime. After his release, the past comes crashing through his front door as the homes of Robert Frost, Edith Wharton, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne go up in smoke.
A lot of remarkable things have happened to Sam Pulsifer, beginning with the ten years he spent in prison for accidentally burning down Emily Dickinson's house and unwittingly killing two people. Emerging at the age of twenty-eight, he creates a new life as a husband and father. But when the homes of other famous writers go up in smoke, he must prove his innocence by uncovering the identity of this literary-minded arsonist.
About the Author
Brock Clarke is the author of The Ordinary White Boy, What We Won't Do, and Carrying the Torch. He has twice been a finalist for a National Magazine Award in fiction. His work has appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review, OneStory, the Believer, the Georgia Review, and the Southern Review; in the Pushcart Prize and New Stories from the South anthologies; and on NPR's "Selected Shorts." He teaches creative writing at the University of Cincinnati.