Monday, June 25, 2007

New Release Spotlight: An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England, By Brock Clarke

Come September, keep an eye out for Clarke's clever new novel, An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England. Sam Pulsiver is an average suburbanite, husband, father, and ex-convict. Well, everyone has his secrets. Sam's is that he accidentally burned down Emily Dickenson's house with (unknown by Sam at the time) two people inside. Years after his release from prison, Sam narrates the story of how his past came back to haunt him as other New England writers' homes go up in smoke (this time not at his hand). Well, that's one of the main storylines (all of which center around Sam at this time in his life). Part mystery, part love story, part exploration of the meaning of loneliness, part tragic tale of decaying families, this story has a bit of everything.

Clarke's voice is approachable, realistic, and at times quite witty. The book as a whole has an extremely oral quality, and the narrative voice is very believable as an ordinary storyteller. Sam truly sounds as though he's telling his story—not writing it—with all the digressions, lack of clear organization, and backtracking that goes with any story told impromptu. While this is not necessarily a bad thing—in fact, it's quite impressive for an author to really commit and not sink into the common trait of trying to create a 'normal person' with amazing eloquence and an outstanding vocabulary—it does create some complications. I feel compelled to offer this one warning: this novel is a great way to spend a weekend (flight, vacation, long evening) marathon reading, if you have the time to really escape reality and fully enjoy the wonderful world Clarke has created. However, it does not work quite as well with more constricted time limits. As entertaining and fluid as the digressions and back stories are within the greater story, they make episodic (e.g. bus ride or short lunch break) reading more difficult, as it takes some time to remember where you are among the many, many plotlines of the novel, especially if you stop in the middle of a digression or history. Very confusing. That does not mean that this book isn't one-hundred-percent worth a read; it just means you should schedule your time accordingly to get the most out of it.
Review by Julie Franks, Indigo Editing, LLC

No comments:

Post a Comment