Join BookBrowse today and get access to free books, our twice monthly digital magazine, and more.

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

The Arsonist

A novel

by Sue Miller

The Arsonist by Sue Miller X
The Arsonist by Sue Miller
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' rating:

  • Published Jun 2014
    320 pages
    Genre: Literary Fiction

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

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.

You can see the full discussion here. This discussion will contain spoilers!

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

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

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

This information about The Arsonist was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own reviewwrite your own review

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.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Author Information

Sue Miller Author Biography

Photo: Debi Milligan

Both critically acclaimed and loved by readers, Sue Miller is recognized internationally for her elegant and sharply realistic accounts of the contemporary family. Her books have been widely translated and published in 22 countries around the world. The Good Mother (1986), the first of her ten novels, was an immediate bestseller (more than six months at the top of the New York Times charts). Subsequent novels include three Book-of- the-Month main selections: Family Pictures (nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award), While I Was Gone (an Oprah's Book Club selection), and The Senator's Wife. Her latest novel is The Arsonist. Her nonfiction book, The Story of My Father, was heralded by BookPage as a "beautiful, spare memoir about her relationship with her father during his illness ...

... Full Biography
Author Interview

Other books by Sue Miller at BookBrowse
  • While I Was Gone jacket

6 more...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

More Recommendations

Readers Also Browsed . . .

more literary fiction...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Join our inner reading circle, go ad-free and get way more!

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket
    Cecilia
    by K-Ming Chang
    In the first few pages of K-Ming Chang's bizarre yet engrossing novella Cecilia, Seven, the ...
  • Book Jacket: Women and Children First
    Women and Children First
    by Alina Grabowski
    After Lucy Anderson falls to her death at a high school party, no one in Nashquitten, her gloomy, ...
  • Book Jacket: Henry Henry
    Henry Henry
    by Allen Bratton
    Allen Bratton's Henry Henry chronicles a year in the life of Hal Lancaster. Readers already ...
  • Book Jacket: The Last Murder at the End of the World
    The Last Murder at the End of the World
    by Stuart Turton
    The island is the only safe place left on Earth. Since a deadly fog overtook the planet, the ...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
Look on the Bright Side
by Kristan Higgins
From the author of Pack Up the Moon comes a funny, romantic, and moving novel about life's unexpected rewards.
Book Jacket
The Pecan Children
by Quinn Connor
Two sisters deeply tied to their small Southern town fight to break free of the darkness swallowing the land whole.
Win This Book
Win Bright and Tender Dark

Bright and Tender Dark by Joanna Pearson

A beautifully written, wire-taut debut novel about a murder on a college campus and its aftermath twenty years later.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

A W in S C

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.