BOOK REVIEW: AN ARSONIST'S GUIDE
This book alternates between heartbreakingly sad, and crazily hilarious.
Truly a reviewer's challenge, to write about it and not give too much away.
Sam Pulisifer lives in a small New England town, and as a foolish teenager, he breaks into Emily Dickinson's home late one night. Startled by a sudden noise, he flees, dropping his cigarette, and inadvertantly burning the house to the ground. Unfortunately, two tour guides have taken advantage of the privacy of the empty house to enjoy each other's company in an upstairs bedroom, and die in the fire.
Sam is arrested, serves a long prison term, and when he is released, wants nothing more to do with his former life. So his wife, children, employers and friends know nothing about his past. The entire fabric of Sam's life begins to unravel when the son of the two who died in the Dickinson fire shows up on his doorstep. And when fires are set at other New England houses which once were homes of famous writers, suspicion falls on Sam.
Knowing this time that he is innocent, Sam determines to find out what IS really going on. Sam describes himself as a bumbler, which is probably a generous viewpoint, considering the hilarity which follows. Yet as with all superb comedy, a hard edge of truth underlies the events. Clarke has much to say about contemporary American culture, and while he delivers his message with affection, his pointed observations will unfailingly make the reader stop and think.
Clarke has written a delightful novel, funny and thoughtful by turns. And the bumbling Sam eventually performs an act of loving grace and sacrifice. The back of the book jacket contains much advance praise from readers who were asked to give their views. I agree wholeheartedly with every comment appearing there.
REVIEWED BY WOODSTOCK
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