Bumbling Reviewers? (Make room for one more!)
An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England: A Novel
Bart King @ 2008-03-02
I am shocked (shocked!) that this extraordinary novel has so many one-star reviews at the moment. As a bumbler myself, I felt a special connection to Sam Pulsifer, the oft-confused protagonist of ARSONIST'S GUIDE. (We're both people who periodically pat our pockets to make sure we haven't lost our wallets and keys.) And I must say that some of the more negative reviewers may have also bumbled.
There seems to be some confusion as to whether this is a comic or "serious" novel. While author Brock Clarke deals with serious issues herein (plagiarism and literature's role chief among them), he also gives Sam the gift of making off-kilter observations and drawing faulty conclusions in a voice that makes it impossible not to chuckle and feel for him. This, even as events spiral downward and Sam goes from the frying pan into the fire (ouch, that's lame).
Even Sam's seemingly throwaway lines speak volumes; here he is observing a book club meeting at a big-box bookstore: "The book had made them happy! This was a revelation to me because I remembered how unhappy books had made me back when I read them."
While ARSONIST'S GUIDE is wincingly funny, as it delves into the relationship between tragedy and the stories behind tragedies, raising questions about who owns these stories: The bereaved loved ones or just anyone who happens to take notes?
And here's another question left unanswered: Why didn't more reviewers dig this dynamite tale?
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