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The Arsonist: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 24, 2014


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

With her trademark elegant prose and masterful command of subtle psychological nuance, Miller explores the tensions between the summer people and the locals in a small New Hampshire town. Frankie Rowley, after years spent doing relief work abroad, has returned to her parents’ summer home, unsure of whether she will ever go back to East Africa, feeling depleted by that region’s seemingly endless suffering. But the reassuring comfort of the small town she has been coming to since she was a girl is shattered by a series of fires set by an arsonist who has targeted the rambling summer homes of the wealthy. Frankie falls into an unexpected and passionate love affair with the local newspaper editor while also becoming privy to her parents’ difficulties, with her mother seeming to resent her husband’s decline into Alzheimer’s, especially since she no longer loves him. The town, awash in fear of the unknown arsonist, splits into factions aligned along class divisions. In this suspenseful and romantic novel, Miller delicately parses the value of commitment and community, the risky nature of relationships, and the yearning for meaningful work. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Miller’s new novel has a first printing of 100,000, and her publisher is launching a full-throttle marketing campaign; no surprise for an author with more than 4 million copies of her books sold. --Joanne Wilkinson

Review

“Entertaining and highly readable . . . Miller’s scenes are terrific. She is expert at moving people in and out of rooms in a visual and easy way [and] describing physical chemistry and attraction in a way that manages to avoid all cliché . . . Fantastic sizzle, both sexual and spiritual . . . A cracking good romance . . . Will keep you reading.”
            —Boston Globe
 
“Subtle . . . Miller writes effectively about the tense underpinnings of a summer community . . . Full of Miller’s signature intelligence about people caught between moral responsibility and a hunger for self-realization.”
            —The New York Times Book Review

“Thoughtful, intense . . . An ambitious, big-issue novel . . . The Arsonist takes place far removed from national news or world conflicts, but it, too, reflects the most urgent matters of our time . . . When even mentioning the widening distance between the classes is considered an act of class warfare, it’s encouraging to watch Miller’s novel negotiate this awkward fact of American life . . . The continuing miracle of Miller’s compelling storytelling [is] she knows these people matter, and as she moves gently from one character's perspective to another, her sensitive delineation of their lives convinces us of that, too.”
            —Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“Miller eschews easy cliffhangers or narrative deceits. The momentum grows instead from her compassionate handling of these characters . . . Not all questions are answered, nor all mysteries solved, but the end of the book is imbued with the same quiet energy that’s been building throughout; it’s not happy, exactly—that would be too easy—but, in true Sue Miller fashion, it’s triumphant.”
            —Elle 
 
“Lyrical, compelling . . . Miller’s portrayal of the fragility of relationships and fear of the unknown—of the thing sthat happen to and around us that we can’t control—are spot-on . . . Miller is a nuanced storyteller who portrays real life . . . Provocative, suspenseful, and emotional.”
            —Minneapolis Star Tribune
 
“A complex page-turner about class differences, family relationships, and the meaning of home . . . Miller is a master at mining the intricacies of human relationships . . . Miller explores with all her characters finding their place in the world and living a meaningful life.”
            —The Cape Codder
 
“Miller once again delivers a novel that, engrossing and rich, is a showcase for her unique ability to get into the nitty-grittys of familial and romantic relationships . . . Scene after scene unfolds—and reads—like life itself. With all its big questions, and all our small, yearning, maybe-right-maybe-wrong answers.”
            —Summer Picks from Linda Wolfe
 
“Miller’s prose keeps you reading. Her sentences have a sumptuous quality to them.”
            —Providence Journal 

“A provocative novel about the boundaries of relationships and the tenuous alliance between locals and summer residents when a crisis is at hand . . . Miller, a pro at explicating family relationships as well as the fragile underpinnings of mature romance, brilliantly explores how her characters define what ‘home’ means to them and the lengths they will go to protect it.”
            —Publishers Weekly
 
“With her trademark elegant prose and masterful command of subtle psychological nuance, Miller explores the tensions between the summer people and the locals in a small New Hampshire town . . . In this suspenseful and romantic novel, Miller delicately parses the value of commitment and community, the risky nature of relationships, and the yearning for meaningful work.”
            —Booklist
 
“The heart of the story really lies in Sylvie and Alfie’s marriage . . . Miller’s portrayal of early Alzheimer’s and the toll it takes on a family is disturbingly accurate and avoids the sentimental uplift prevalent in issue-oriented fiction . . . Miller captures all the complicated nuances of a family in crisis.”
            —Kirkus
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (June 24, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307594793
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307594792
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (186 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #167,006 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

And finally, the ending was disappointing– not a satisfying conclusion.
WRB
I found her and pretty much all the characters and relationships in the book to be pretty disconnected and hollow.
OlyNomad
Wonderful writing, you just loved the characters and the way the story developed.
KRS

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 63 people found the following review helpful By D. Sorel VINE VOICE on May 14, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
With summer on its way and the heat ramping up, I am on a summer reading binge! When I heard that Sue Miller was writing a book about a summer community plagued by suspicious fires....well, I thought I had won the lottery. Miller's writing has always impressed me and her characters are so true and real that I feel like they could be my neighbors. That's why I was so excited to see her take on a community that is half summer residents and half full-time residents. I was disappointed. Very disappointed.

As I am sure you know by now, the story centers around Frankie who has just returned to the States from Africa where she had been doing humanitarian work for years. When she lands, she finds out that her parents have permanently moved to their summer home in New Hampshire. The once sleepy community becomes the target for an arsonist who seems to only be burning down the houses of summer residents.

This premise hooked me, as I have always found the relationship between summer residents and full-time residents to be very interesting. However, this novel is a slog. It's told from multiple perspectives which would have been an asset if each viewed the situation differently. But everyone seems to be on the same page and therefore the multiple perspectives just feels like another boring retelling of the same boring story. Not to mention that the "mystery" can be deduced from the first chapter and the ending is like a deflated balloon. There is little to no character development and I never believed the connection (or disconnection) that the characters felt for one another.

Overall, this is not up to Miller's usual standards. In fact, I didn't even find it up to your typical summer/beach read standards. Great premise, tepid follow through.
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By K. L. Cotugno VINE VOICE on May 14, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Once I started, I had to finish, breaking one of my cardinal rules: life is too short to stay with books that are not your cup of tea. In order to be fair, since I am required to review this book, I feel I have to finish it. But what a slog. Maybe I've read too many of this type of novel, but I really expected more from Sue Miller who is a very accomplished author. But she has a maybe 100 page book here, plot-wise. And it is 300+ pages. In an interview, Tony Hillerman once pointed out that his basic plot needs padding or his books would all be 50 pages long, but his padding involved character development, back stories, subplots and intrigue. Here, we learn about every outfit, every hair style, and whether Frankie has painted her toenails or not. If you are fascinated by the fact that she's wearing a green sweater, then by all means, pick this up. Otherwise, pass. You'll have time added onto your life that were taken away from mine.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By PNL on July 23, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book drags on from one inane conversation to another. No plot, no suspense. Just self-absorbed characters, wallowing in self-righteousness. Cannot believe some publisher was willing to publish this. Slogged through this hoping something would develop. The title has nothing to do with the story. The arsonist would have been the personality to develop. Instead the arsonist is completely missing...no motive, no identity! No kidding...thank me for this 'head's up.'
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By WRB on July 3, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Several house fires within a short period of time had residents in Pomeroy, New Hampshire, fearful. The fires were started in the early morning hours and occurred in summer residences that were unoccupied – families had not yet arrived for the season. It seemed there was an arsonist in this small town.

I was immediately swept in by the promising beginning, but the storyline soon fell flat, and my expectations were not met. Unfortunately this book had little or no impact on me.

A few positive comments – The descriptive writing was beautifully crafted and most of the characters were vibrantly drawn. My favorite characters were Alfie and Sylvia, and this part of the story did capture my attention. Alfie’s failing health and his early stages of Alzheimer’s, along with their lost love and failing marriage drew me in. Their story developed with emotion throughout, but suddenly it seemed to be dropped, and went nowhere – disappointing.

Bud and Frankie’s romance seemed to take over the storyline and the arson fires took a back seat. There was no intrigue and very little emotion connected to the fires – little to no suspense, whatsoever. Fires started by an arsonist should have been a terrifying experience, with a crescendo of suspense, but it just didn’t happen.

And finally, the ending was disappointing– not a satisfying conclusion. I’m sorry to say, this book failed to capture my excitement. 2.5 stars

I received an ARC as a Goodreads First–Reads Winner. All opinions shared in this review are my own.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By P. Bigelow VINE VOICE on June 5, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In Sue Miller’s eleventh novel, Frankie Rowley has returned to her parents’ home in a small town, Pomeroy, New Hampshire after spending fifteen years doing humanitarian work in Africa. Almost immediately an arsonist begins burning down the homes of summer residents.

As others have mentioned, I found some of the characters in this novel interesting, but none were engaging. I didn’t find myself caring about any of them. They were stiff and cardboardish. Unfortunately for Miller, I had just finished reading a novel, “The Guernsey and Potato Peel Pie Literary Society” (2009), in which the characters were engaging from page one and when the book ended 270 pages later, I was disappointed because I really liked these people and could have read another 270 pages of their stories.

A secondary, or perhaps the primary, storyline are Frankie’s parents. Her father is slipping into dementia and her mother seems to resents it. It is clear to the reader that her mother does not want to have to care for her father. However, 43-year-old Frankie has her own issues with her mother left over from her childhood.

“The Arsonist” is full of tension - between Frankie and her parents, particularly her mother, between the people who live year around in town and the people who spend all or part of the year in town. However, if Miller had spent as much time on building her characters as she did building the tension, this would have been a much more enjoyable read.
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