Apr 15, 2009

Monkey Droppings - Brock Clarke's An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England

I'm going to put a few quick book reviews up in the next few days, to make up for an appalling break on my part. They'll be quick, and hardly insightful, but I do hope you'll read the books anyway, and forgive my lackadaisical nature.

Also, I'm starting a new ratings system. I'm sick of As, Bs, Cs, etc. You'll find the new handy-dandy rating at the bottom of each review.

And now, to work! If twenty minutes of ill-conceived ramblings can be considered work. It can? Score!

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England
by Brock Clarke

Sam Pulsifer has a problem, or rather, many problems. He was convicted of arson and inadvertent murder after a youthful escapade ended in the fiery destruction of Emily Dickinson's house, and the deaths of the two caretakers inside. Years later, after serving his sentence, Sam appears to have his life back on track; he has a wife, lovely kids, a degree in packaging science, and no contact with his parents or anything from his previous life. Until the son of the dead caretakers shows up for an apology, and the homes of other famous authors are mysteriously torched.

From such beginnings grows a novel of insanity and revenge that almost effortlessly achieves a strange and alluring grandeur. An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England is a gratifyingly accomplished novel that puts author Brock Clarke on my watch list.

What makes Guide such a marvelous comedy, aside from Clarke's clear prose and sparking wit, is his treatment of his lead character. In the best tradition of classic comedic heroes, Sam is not so much an actor as a reactor, always one step behind and guided by forces beyond his control. There is quite a bit of the hapless Sam Lowry in Pulsifer, the befuddled hero of Terry Gilliam's satire
Brazil. Pulsifer, like Lowry, is an immediately identifiable 'bumbler' (in the parlance of his father), trying to wend his way through life without causing ruckus or discord, yet constantly forced to act against his will. As he slowly tracks down the real arsonist - aided by letters written to him while in prison, pleading for him to burn down other the homes of other authors such as Mark Twain or Robert Frost - Pulsifer examines the effect stories have on people, and how people are desperate to have stories of their own.

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England is a major accomplishment in comic misadventure, a softly endearing dissection of the love of good stories, and a treat of a novel.


1 comment:

Serena said...

You enjoyed this one far more than I did...while I could see the themes here, I really just didn't enjoy how they were executed in the prose and characterizations.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...