Excerpt from An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England by Brock Clarke, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England

A Novel

by Brock Clarke

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 305 pages
    Sep 2008, 305 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

So Springfield was out, but we had to go somewhere. One day Anne Marie said, "I hear Amherst is nice. What about Amherst?"

It should be said here that I hadn't told Anne Marie about my past, and right then I wanted to, badly: I wanted to tell Anne Marie everything—about the Emily Dickinson House and how I'd burned it, accidentally, and the people I'd killed—and by the way, it wasn't the first time I'd wanted to tell her such a thing. I should have told her right away, I know this now and I knew it then, but new love is so fragile and I thought I would wait until it got stronger. But then time and more time went by, and now my original crime was compounded by the crime of not telling her about it for so many years and things were too complicated and I couldn't tell her the truth.

So I said yes. Amherst. Why not? We put the kids in the minivan and headed up to Amherst. On the drive up I convinced myself of things, crazy things. I told myself that we'd get to the town and find an old, lovely New England house in old, lovely New England Amherst, move in, then present my house, my wife, my kids, my job, myself, to my parents, who would have by this point begun to miss me. I've changed, I would say. And they would say, Us, too. Welcome home. Because the heart wants what the heart wants, and the heart was telling me, Don't be ridiculous, they've forgiven you, all of them. Saying, It's time, it's time, it's time.

It wasn't time. This was on a Friday. Amherst was exactly as I'd remembered it: the leafy, prosperous streets, which were filled with so many Volvo station wagons it was like mushrooms in a cave; the two-hundred- year-old houses with their genteelly overgrown lawns, their tiger lilies and blue mums and birch trees and historical markers; the white college boys with dreadlocks playing their complicated Frisbee games on the sweeping town green; the white clapboard Congregational churches and the granite Episcopal churches and the soaring spires of the college everywhere visible over the high tree line; the well-scrubbed college girls barely dressed in workout clothes; and the boat-shoed and loafered professors drinking their coffee on the sort of wrought iron outdoor patio furniture that looks too delicate to sit on even if you were as water thin as most of the college girls were. All of this was familiar to me, but it didn't make me feel happy, didn't make me feel at home. I felt like a cousin once removed, which meant, I guess, that you weren't really a cousin at all: you were estranged from blood relation in some permanent way, and my remove from Amherst was that I had burned down the most significant of its significant, beautiful, aged houses, had killed two of its loafered citizens. A cousin once removed was not a cousin; a criminal citizen was not a citizen.

This was a big disappointment, the biggest, because I'd taken up packaging science, and I'd forgotten my literature, forgotten that you can't go home again, and so I thought that Amherst—the town where I'd grown up, the town where both my parents had grown up, the town where both their families had lived for two hundred years—would still be my hometown. How could it not? Was I not the town's own humbled prodigal son? Did not every town need someone like me, someone—as the song says—who was lost but now was found? But from the driver's seat of our minivan, I had the definite feeling that Amherst would never be my town again, that the town itself wouldn't stand for it, that they didn't need a prodigal son, that a prodigal son was exactly what they didn't need. We drove past my old high school: there were bars on the windows where there hadn't been before I went to prison, armed uniformed guards out front where before there'd been old-lady hall monitors with whistles, and I imagined that the bars and the guards were there to protect the students from me and not some teenage crazy in a trench coat stuffed with homemade ordnance. I could hear the principal during assembly that morning: We were not vigilant and he burned down the Emily Dickinson House and killed two people in the bargain. But we are ready for him now. I imagined that after school the students and their parents, and for that matter the whole town, would—a la Frankenstein—take up their torches and pitchforks and drive me out of town and leave me—lurching, grunting, monstrous with my scarred and stitched body and the bolt through my head—wandering, lost in the strange, cruel world, never to be heard from again.

Excerpted from An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England by Brock Clarke © 2007 by Brock Clarke. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • 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 $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: So Say the Fallen
    So Say the Fallen
    by Stuart Neville
    Noir crime fiction – Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett anyone? – is an American invention...
  • Book Jacket: The Mothers
    The Mothers
    by Brit Bennett
    Every now and then the publishing industry gushes about a young author destined to become the next ...
  • Book Jacket
    by Tom Jackson
    Growing up in Mumbai in the '70s, I still remember herbs kept fresh in small glasses of water, ...
Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Bone Tree
by Greg Iles

An epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Next
    by Stephanie Gangi

    Fast-paced, wickedly observant, and haunting in the best sense of the word.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    News of the World
    by Paulette Jiles

    Exquisitely rendered and morally complex--a brilliant work of historical fiction.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Comet Seekers
    by Helen Sedgwick

    A magical, intoxicating debut novel, both intimate and epic.

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win The World of Poldark

Win the book & DVD

Enter to win The World of Poldark and the full first series on DVD.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One S D N M A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.