Sonderbooks Book Review of

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

by Brock Clarke

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

by Brock Clarke

Review posted October 12, 2008.
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2007. 303 pages.

Sam Pulsifer is a bumbler. He's a lovable bumbler, but he's undeniably a bumbler.

Sam spent ten years of his life in prison because when he was eighteen, he accidentally burned down the Emily Dickinson House and killed two people.

While he was in prison, people wrote to him, asking him to burn down other writers' houses for them. His father saved the letters in a shoebox.

When he gets out, he's on his way to a happy life, with a career, a beautiful wife and two children. But circumstances come against him, and Sam inevitably bumbles his reactions.

This book is humorous, but in a deeply sad way. This is not the typical feel-good novel I read, and I almost didn't finish it. Readers with a cynical bent will find the book quite hilarious. I found it terribly sad. If I had known one of the issues it deals with is marital happiness and unfaithfulness, I probably never would have picked it up. Overall, it has an exceedingly pessimistic outlook on life, and love, and literature.

In the end, I finished the book because I cared about Sam Pulsifer. Yes, he's a bumbler, but he has a good, noble heart. I still find myself hoping that, after the book finishes, perhaps events in his life will, somehow, take a turn for the better.