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The Arsonist: Book summary and reviews of The Arsonist by Sue Miller

The Arsonist

A novel

by Sue Miller

The Arsonist
  • Critics' Opinion:

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  • Published in USA  Jun 2014
    320 pages
    Genre: Novels

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About this book

Book Summary

From the best-selling author of While I Was Gone and The Senator's Wife, a superb new novel about a family and a community tested when an arsonist begins setting fire to the homes of the summer people in a small New England town.

Troubled by the feeling that she belongs nowhere after working in East Africa for fifteen years, Frankie Rowley has come home—home to the small New Hampshire village of Pomeroy and the farmhouse where her family has always summered. On her first night back, a house up the road burns to the ground. Then another house burns, and another, always the houses of the summer people. In a town where people have never bothered to lock their doors, social fault lines are opened, and neighbors begin to regard one another with suspicion. Against this backdrop of menace and fear, Frankie begins a passionate, unexpected affair with the editor of the local paper, a romance that progresses with exquisite tenderness and heat toward its own remarkable risks and revelations.

Suspenseful, sophisticated, rich in psychological nuance and emotional insight, The Arsonist is vintage Sue Miller—a finely wrought novel about belonging and community, about how and where one ought to live, about what it means to lead a fulfilling life. One of our most elegant and engrossing novelists at her inimitable best.

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Some of the recent comments posted about The Arsonist:

Are there any specific characteristics that are "undeniably American" in nature? Do you feel that you are undeniably a native of the country of your birth?
Maybe not so much "undeniably American" as "undeniably first world," in this era of instant communication. I think the optimism mentioned by Becky might be a part of life in many countries, but the American view that we can fix anything by trying ... - juliaa

As the novel progresses, how does the schism between the classes become more pronounced? What role does suspicion play?
The town of Pomeroy is divided between two populations: the summer people and the year-round residents. As the novel progresses, how does the schism between the classes become more pronounced? What role does suspicion play? - davinamw

Could you easily relate to Miller's characters or put yourself in their shoes?
I think that Sylvie was the character that I could identify with the most. She's closest to my age too. Although she was not the most likeable character in the story, she had honest, legitimate feelings about being cast in the role of Alphie's ... - jeann

Do children who grow up moving from one place to another have a more "fluid" concept of home?
When I think of home, I think of where I grew up. The same neighbors were there my whole childhood. People were not as mobile then..(in the 50's). Generally, they seemed to keep the same jobs and the same houses. I have good memories of the years ... - jeann

Do you feel Frankie's attitude is consistent with her upbringing? To what extent are we all products of our background?
We are all products of our upbringing but as we get older and wiser we can make changes. Frankie did what many people do as they grow and gain more and more life experiences. - maryj

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"A provocative novel about the boundaries of relationships and the tenuous alliance between locals and summer residents when a crisis is at hand... Miller, a pro at explicating family relationships as well as the fragile underpinnings of mature romance, brilliantly explores how her characters define what 'home' means to them and the lengths they will go to protect it." - Publishers Weekly

"With her trademark elegant prose and masterful command of subtle psychological nuance, Miller explores the tensions between the summer people and the locals in a small New Hampshire town... In this suspenseful and romantic novel, Miller delicately parses the value of commitment and community, the risky nature of relationships, and the yearning for meaningful work." - Booklist

"The heart of the story really lies in Sylvie and Alfie's marriage... Miller's portrayal of early Alzheimer's and the toll it takes on a family is disturbingly accurate and avoids the sentimental uplift prevalent in issue-oriented fiction... Miller captures all the complicated nuances of a family in crisis." - Kirkus

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Reader Reviews

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Katherine

BLT without the Bacon
This book had great characters and a number of intriguing running plot lines which all seemed to just trail off at the end. It seemed as if the author just got tired of writing and stopped, without an effort to tie together the plot lines or even to resolve them separately. In the end I felt cheated, like being served a BLT with no bacon inside.

Andrea

I wanted to like this book
When I read the blurb on the back of the book I was intrigued and looked forward to diving into it. By the time I was a third of the way in I was wondering when the story was going to start. Too much of the beginning was spent in character development. When the plot line finally got going, I didn't care.

Janet Smith

Not Sue Miller's Best
First, let me say that I am a Sue Miller fan. I have been since I read The Good Mother years ago. That said, I have mixed emotions about The Arsonist. It is not a book I loved, yet I did not hate it either.

The novel has various themes going on – several house fires that happen during the course of one summer; Frankie trying to come to terms with who she is and what she wants to do with her life; her mother, Sylvia, envious of Frankie’s life, who has lived in the shadow of her husband (Alfie) and who has not loved her husband/Frankie’s father for some time; and Bud, Pomeroy’s local newspaper reporter, who is burned out from covering the Washington political scene.

I felt all of these themes competed with each other throughout the book and none were totally resolved. The story is slow and plodding. The ending left much up to the reader. Did not feel it was one of Sue Miller’s best works.

Gwail

I was expecting more
I was disappointed by this read. I was waiting for the big moment, whatever it was going to be, and it didn't happen. It turned out to be a love story with a side plot about an arsonist. Sorry to be so blunt but I feel I wasted my time with this book.

BeckyH

This book has no end
I enjoyed this very well written book until I got to the end. Then I felt cheated. Where was the conclusion? What happened? Who was guilty? Who died? Who loved?
Frankie and Bud were clearly drawn, likeable characters. Frankie’s life in Africa was detailed enough to make her believable if unknown and unknowable. Bud was always known and knowable. Sylvia and Alfie were good foils for Frankie and Bud.
The fires seemed peripheral to the story, unnecessary even.
Did I like this book? While I was reading it – unequivocally yes! Did I like it once I finished the book – not so much. The last 10 pages seemed like a cop out – I don’t know what to do with these characters and their story, so I’ll just end it. Very unsatisfying.

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Author Information

Sue Miller Author Biography

Photo: Debi Milligan

Sue Miller was born in Chicago in 1943. She is the bestselling author of several novels including The Good Mother, Inventing the Abbotts, The Lake Shore Limited, The Arsonist and the acclaimed memoir The Story of My Father.

She serves as the chair of PEN, New England. Sue Miller is now a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she teaches creative writing classes.

Author Interview

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