Monday, August 01, 2011

An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, by Brock Clarke

An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, by Brock Clarke

I enjoyed this book, although it was a bit odd. The narrator, Sam Pulsifer, tells the story of how he went to jail for arson and manslaughter, and his unconventional life after his release. It is an interesting tale, but Pulsifer is so passive and detached from his own life it is at times seems as if the story is written in third person instead of first. He doesn’t so much as go on an adventure as he simply lets one happen to him. His one bold move comes at the climax, a sacrifice that illustrates how the sins of the parents cause suffering for their children.

The prose is witty and makes great use of imagery, making for a very visual read. “Instead of clapping, Peter was grinding his right fist into his left palm in such a way that it made me feel very sorry for the palm.” I also liked the clever descriptions of New England throughout. “...I slipped behind another white pine, white pines being as plentiful in New Hampshire as Volvos were in Amherst.” The characters are quirky and unbelievable, but the story is entertaining enough to propel itself past this problem. Smart writing and dark humor make for a good combination here, but the passiveness of the narrator make this a tough read in some spots.

First Sentence:
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 prices long into the not-so-sweet hereafter.

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