Wednesday, June 5, 2013
An Arsonist's Guide to Writer's Homes in New England
The story follows Sam Pulsifer, a somewhat clueless and hapless 30-something man who accidentally burnt down Emily Dickinson's house during his teenage years. Oh, and there was a couple inside the house at the time who didn't make it out. He's done his 10 years in prison, and the plot picks up about 10 years after his release, when he is the married father of two. At this point, someone has started setting fire to other notable author's houses in New England, and all signs point to Sam. This time, though, he has nothing to do with it.
Who's framing him? Why didn't he tell his wife or children about his past, and why did he lie to them about his parents being dead? What's going on with his alcoholic father and enabling mother?
For me, the biggest question of the novel is, "Why am I supposed to care?" I had higher hopes for this book, which was compared to The World According to Garp and Catch-22 in a few reviews I checked out. Perhaps if I'd read this at a different point in my life (maybe when I was in high school and neck-deep in my Chuck Palahniuk phase), I would have enjoyed Sam's story. However, my interest waned after realizing that he doesn't take responsibility for any of his actions, and does absolutely nothing to help himself. He's one of those guys who thinks things just keep happening to him without any provocation, when he really could stop the build-up of blame by being a grown-up. I won't be picking up any of Clarke's other novels; this one totally turned me off.