Gregory Baird's Reviews > An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England by Brock Clarke
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Dec 29, 2014

it was ok
bookshelves: 2008-booklist, fiction-literature, abandoned, quirky
Read in September, 2008

“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.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Joe (new)

Joe Thank you for saving mine eyes and brain the torture of reading this book.


message 2: by Katherine (new) - added it

Katherine I just read the book, and I'm glad someone agrees with me about the too muchness! There are some great insights and really funny lines, but by the end of the book I wanted Sam to just shut up and stop reading into everything so much.


Ellen I agree that this book was painful to read. I also found that so much of the plot was so obviously projected that I was hoping that there would be double crosses just so that my guess would be wrong, but there weren't and I wasn't.


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