An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England: A Novel, by Brock Clarke

rocksandroles's review

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challenging emotional mysterious reflective sad medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


It's...It's fine, I guess. The book reads as though the reader is a little dull and needs metaphors explained to them, and such way I wish the author trusted me a little more. It was a neat setting but the main character is less than likeable.

pinknantucket's review

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This was a lot of fun, though I did feel Sam Pulsifer (the accidental and somewhat hapless arsonist of the title) was treated somewhat unfairly by fate, in the end. I love the idea that there are hundreds of people all around the world who secretly wish for the houses of famous writers to be destroyed, for various reasons. I particularly liked Sam's Mum. And the letter writers he encounters. I don' think you'd regret spending time with this book.

My copy: Bought second-hand from Savers (for 49c). Whoever bought it first bought it from the Brunswick St Bookstore for $22.95. I'd happily read it for that price too.

loribulb's review

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I really wanted to like this book, but I couldn't even finish it. I got a hundred pages in and realized I didn't care about even one character, not even the main one.

dorkington's review

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funny mysterious medium-paced
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated


fankle's review

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Mislead by blurb on the back - not not not funny

supposedlyfun's review

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“An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England” is the odyssey of Sam Pulsifer, a perpetual but completely accidental ne’er do well. His life story is rather convoluted, so suffice it to say that he snuck into the Emily Dickinson home one fateful night, eager to check out the veracity of several spooky stories his mother told him growing up, and unwittingly started a mighty conflagration that reduced the historic landmark to rubble and killed the amorous couple he did not know was inside. Fifteen years later, Pulsifer has gotten out of prison and started his life anew in a new town. Everything seems to be going well, until Thomas Coleman, the son of the couple he accidentally killed, shows up on his doorstep eager for revenge. And someone starts torching the homes of famous writers in New England, causing the police to investigate Pulsifer. And the life he has worked so hard to build starts coming apart at the seams.

Brock Clarke is a capable enough writer, and he certainly has a great deal of wit. The problem is that he has too much of it, and he just can’t seem to stop showing it off. He suffers from a serious case of ‘too-muchness’. Each chapter is drowning in absurd plot twists and cock-eyed reasoning that digs Pulsifer deeper and deeper into his own private hell. And it gets very painful by the halfway point of “Arsonist”. Just look at the title of this novel; it’s kind of cute and amusing, if a wee bit pretentious. Now imagine getting beaten over the head with that kind of humor for 303 pages and you have an idea of what it is to slog through this book.

It’s relentless!! The plot gets so ridiculously contrived by page fifty that you’ll have a headache from slapping your head and asking “he did WHAT?” after Pulsifer’s latest egregious misstep. Honestly, bumbling doesn't begin to describe him -- even Inspector Clouseau would think Sam Pulsifer is insane, and that says a lot. Making what by all rights could have been a light-hearted romp irritating and painful.

It’s a shame.