As a teenager, it was never Sam Pulsifer's intention to torch an American landmark, and he certainly never planned to kill two people in the blaze. To this day, he still wonders why that young couple was upstairs in bed in the Emily Dickinson House after hours.
After serving ten years in prison for his crime, Sam is determined to put the past behind him. He finishes college, begins a career, falls in love, gets married, has two adorable kids, and buys a home. His low-profile life is chugging along quite nicely until the past comes crashing through his front door.
As the homes of Robert Frost, Edith Wharton, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and even a replica of Henry David Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond, go up in smoke, Sam becomes the number one suspect. Finding the real culprit is the only way to clear his namebut sometimes there's a terrible price to pay for the truth.
An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England is a tour de forcea novel disguised as a memoir, a mystery that cloaks itself in humor, and an artful piece of literature that bites the hand that breeds it.
I, Sam Pulsifer, am the man who accidentally burned down the Emily Dickinson House in Amherst, Massachusetts, and who in the process killed two people, for which I spent ten years in prison and, as letters from scholars of American literature tell me, for which I will continue to pay a high price long into the not-so-sweet hereafter. This story is locally well known, and so I won't go into it here. It's probably enough to say that in the Massachusetts Mt. Rushmore of big, gruesome tragedy, there are the Kennedys, and Lizzie Borden and her ax, and the burning witches at Salem, and then there's me.
So anyway, I served my time, and since the sentencing judge took mercy on me, I served my time at the minimum-security prison up at Holyoke. At Holyoke there were bond analysts and lawyers and day traders and city managers and school administrators, all of them caught with their hands in the till and nothing at all like me, an eighteen-year-old accidental arsonist and ...
Brock Clarke manages to skewer pretty much every literary pretension there is, and any number of cultural mores, but his satire does not so much bite as gently gum its victims - Clarke is not an outsider laughing at the literary world, but an insider sharing its jokes.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (972 words).
Brock Clarke is the author of three previous books: The Ordinary White Boy (2001) and two story collections: What We Won't Do (2002), which won the 2000 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction; and Carrying The Torch (2005). His stories and essays have appeared in many places including Virginia Quarterly Review, OneStory, the Believer, the Georgia Review, and the Southern Review. He has received awards from the Sewanee Writers' Conference, Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and others. He lives in ...
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