Not bad but not especially good either
An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England: A Novel
Thomas Paul @ 2009-06-14
The cover of my copy of this book quotes reviews from the New York Times and Entertainment Weekly that describe the book as wildly, unpredictably, and searingly funny and as absurdly hilarious. I can only assume the the authors of those reviews either didn't read the same book as I did or have very different senses of humor. The word "hilarious" is especially over the top for this book. I will admit that I was mildly amused three or four times while reading and perhaps even laughed out loud once but that was it. But, that isn't to say that this was a bad book. In fact, I would say that it was actually a fairly good read. It just wasn't very funny.
Sam Pulsifer, the narrator of this story, accidentally burned down Emily Dickinson's house and killed two tour guides who were making love on Emily Dickinson's bed. No one believes it was an accident so Sam goes to prison for eight years. Getting out, he finds true love and they marry but he fails to mention his past to her which means he has to pretend his parents are dead. When the grown up child of the tour guides (they were married) shows up to make Sam's life miserable, the story goes into a strange narrative involving his own lies, his parents' lies, more writers house's being burned down, and a quest for understanding in a world where no one is who they seem to be. Sam is an odd character and his actions are often hard to accept but if you can ignore the often unbelievable behaviors the story is actually a decent read. It isn't a bad story but the ending was a bit of a disappointment.
Overall the book isn't as good as the over-inflated reviews it has been receiving but it is not as bad as some of the other reviews. So don't get carried away by all the positive reviews covering it front and back (and the first four pages as well) into thinking this is some great novel. It's not bad but there are plenty of other better books out there to read.
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