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An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England

by Brock Clarke

genre: fiction

Synopsis from Goodreads
Sam Pulsifer, the hapless hero of this incendiary novel, has come to the end of a very long and unusual journey, and for the second time in his life he has the time to think about all the things that have and have not come to pass.

The truth is, a lot of remarkable things have happened in Sam’s life. He spent ten years in prison for accidentally burning down poet Emily Dickinson’s house-and unwittingly killing two people in the process. He emerged at age twenty-eight and set about creating a new life-almost a new identity-for himself. He went to college, found love, got married, fathered two children, and made a new start-and then watched in almost-silent awe as the vengeful past caught up with him, right at his own front door.
As, one by one, the homes of other famous New England writers are torched, Sam knows that this time he is most certainly not the guilty one. To prove his innocence, he sets out to uncover the identity of this literary-minded arsonist. What he discovers, and how he deals with the reality of his discoveries, is both hilariously funny and heartbreakingly sad. For, as Sam learns, the truth has a way of eluding capture, and then, when you finally get close enough to embrace it, it turns and kicks you in the ass.


You’ll notice the genre is marked as “fiction.”  Not “mystery” as the synopsis might suggest or “literary fiction” or any of out other usual tags.  This is because this novel defies genres.  Stuck somewhere between a train wreck and listening to a diatribe of a crazy person’s Facebook updates, this was the most gosh awful book I  have ever listened to, but I also could not bring myself to stop.

Every character in this novel was sniffing glue.  I saw this image on Facebook, and I imagined one of them was Sam Pulsifer because clearly we’re just counting down the seconds until they all earn Darwin Awards.

Darwin Award in 3... 2... 1....

Seriously, it was like listening to the most mundane status updates of a crazy person.  Self absorbed, irrational, and unnecessarily dumbed down,  Sam’s monologue is filled with self deprecating ramblings and nuggets *snort* of wisdom like “maybe taking responsibility is telling a lie with good intentions” and “house fires are beautiful; that must be why people crowd around to watch.”  Sam has no sense of self worth.  He’s completely deflated when, after telling his story about accidentally burning down a house, the listener says the story doesn’t feel like a real person.”  Drug dealers are currently sobbing, wishing Sam Pulsifer is a real person because it takes no effort to manipulate him.  His mom comes home, chugs a bear, asks him if he wants one, he says he doesn’t drink, she says “you do now,” so he drunks and quickly turns into an alcoholic.

“Why are you dumb,” “what is wrong with these people,” and “is everyone sniffing glue,” played for top billing in my mind as I listened.  While Sam was in jail, people wrote him letters about why they wanted him to burn down other writer’s houses.  They had rationalizations like “I’m afraid to turn into a character in one of Said Author’s novels, so I want Said Author’s house burned down.”  Does anyone else besides me think that is completely insane?  Even if I were to humor the idea that a  person could turn into a character from a novel, how would burning down the house affect the story at all?  And my personal favorite, “how dare you burn down Male Author’s house instead of Female Author’s house.  It just shows you don’t value Female Author’s writing enough to burn down her house.  If there was any justice in the world, you would have burned down Female Author’s house.  This is sexism and a tragedy for all female authors.”

Dear crazy people, please do not worry that you will turn into one of the Blind Sight characters.  No matter how many drugs you shoot into your veins, you’re not going to get super powers.  I would also greatly appreciate it if you never admire me so much that you wish to burn my house down.

Eliabeth Hawthorne

You might like this book if:

  • You have the IQ of a house plant.
  • You are obsessed with Facebook and love hearing the same status update rephrased three different ways in five sentences or less.

You might not like this book if:

  • Everyone who didn’t qualify in one of the above bullet points.

1 out of 5 stars.  The only reason to read this novel is if curiosity gets the better of you and you have to see for yourself how bad it is.

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