Customer Review

34 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How one event can change many lives, September 9, 2007
This review is from: An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England: A Novel (Hardcover)
Sam Pulsifer is a bumbler. And in true bumbler fashion, he doesn't know he *is* one until he meets white-collar criminals in prison who scoff at such individuals. Sam is an innocent soul: a blissfully naÔve young man who accidentally starts a fire in an historic house and accidentally kills a married couple secretly meeting inside it. This is his story, which he begins for us after his 10-year incarceration and the resumption of his life. The narrative is conveyed in first person by Sam himself, written at a time in the future when hindsight is 20/20 and he can keep us interested by providing forecasts in regular asides: "This turned out, much later, to be something of a mistake on my part, but how was I to know that at the time? How are we supposed to recognize our mistakes before they become mistakes? Where is the book that can teach us *that*?"

Sam goes to college, gets a good job, marries well and has two children before the big trouble starts: someone else begins to set fire to other historic homes in New England, and fingers start pointing once again at Sam. But we readers know he didn't do it, don't we? Having read lots of literature in his lifetime but not detective stories, Sam doesn't quite know how to go about investigating the situation and clearing his name. In Sam's case, ignorance is not necessarily bliss; and he unwittingly gets himself in deeper trouble as he goes along. But at least he realizes his limitations: "The truth is that the world is full of bumblers exactly like you, and to think that you're special is just one more thing you've bumbled." Low self-esteem is one of Sam's personal demons.

What sounds like serious business is really a comic tragedy, with many humorous moments found in Sam's assessment of what Life throws at him. Unlike other reviewers, I found Sam to be a likable character. His stream of consciousness over-analysis of every encounter is the kind of thing that really *does* buzz through our minds; we just don't write it all down like he did. And if we took the time to record it, it would sound just as immature and surreal and ridiculous as what we read in these pages.

Author Brock Clarke is obviously familiar enough with the region (Amherst, the Pioneer Valley, the greater Springfield area) that he can portray it realistically and poke subdued fun at it at the same time. Local readers will laugh out loud more than once. At least *I* did.

A glance at the book title will no doubt panic every director of every historic home across the country. "Yikes! Why would he write this kind of thing and put this terrible idea into people's heads?" they might lament. Well, just as most mystery readers don't run right out and commit murder, most readers of AN ARSONIST'S GUIDE won't be inclined to torch the nearest entry on the National Register of Historic Places. And even so: I can't think of another title that would be appropriate for this book. An enjoyable memoir of a fictitious character who deserves better than his due.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 3, 2007 11:31:41 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 3, 2007 11:32:40 AM PDT
Cuppajoe says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 27, 2007 2:07:45 PM PST
But have you read the book?

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 26, 2008 7:37:24 AM PST
Kiki says:
Wow. What a crazy thing to say! Its a work of fiction and one look at the cover would tell you its meant to be funny and ironic, not an actual "arsonist's gudie"! And even if some misdirected soul wandered into the fiction section and actually borrowed or purchased the book fror that reason, it certainly wouldn't be any help to them! You'd know that if you'd read the book!
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