Monday, September 17, 2007

Pg. 99: "An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Brock Clarke's An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England.

About the book, from the official website:

“I, Sam Pulsifer, would like you to know that I take full responsibility for burning down the home of Emily Dickinson. However, I cannot take credit for the other literary blazes that were inspired by mine. At least, I don't think I can.”

As a teenager, it was never Sam Pulsifer’s intention to torch an American landmark. He certainly never planned to kill two people in the blaze. To this day, he still wonders why that young couple was upstairs in bed in the Emily Dickinson house after hours.

After serving ten years in prison for his crime, Sam is determined to put the past behind him. He finishes college, begins a career, falls in love, gets married, has two adorable kids, and buys a nice home. His low-profile life is chugging along quite nicely until the past comes crashing through his front door.

As the homes of Robert Frost, Edith Wharton, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and even a replica of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond go up in smoke, Sam becomes the number one suspect. Finding the real culprit is the only way to clear his name — but sometimes there’s a terrible price to pay for the truth.

An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England is a literary tour de force — a brilliant skewering of every memoir every written and a novel that will have readers underlining their favorite passages and reading them aloud.

Among the early praise for the novel:
"Funny, profound . . . Larded with grabby aphorisms . . . memorable images and bittersweet epiphanies, Clarke's novel is an agile melding of faux-memoir and mystery. Spot-on timing gives it snap, and a rich sense of perversity ... lends texture. It's a seductive book with a payoff on every page."
People Magazine ("Critic's Choice," four-stars)

"Clarke's novel sizzles. . . . This straight-faced, postmodern comedy scorches all things literary, from those moldy author museums to the excruciating question-and-answer sessions that follow public readings... They're all singed under Clarke's crisp wit.... [An Arsonist's Guide] is written in an innocent, deadpan voice, packed full of Sam [Pulsifer]'s bittersweet observations and fueled by Clarke's satire.... Literature, Clarke suggests in this witty lament, is somehow the pain and salve of our lives. We're drawn to stories like a moth to you know what."
Washington Post Book World

"Wildly, unpredictably funny.... An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England is as cheerfully oddball as its title. Its cover art includes a tiny cartoon sketch of a green-frocked literary lioness garlanded in flames, and that captures the irreverence of the author, Brock Clarke's, enterprise. Although it is his fourth book, it feels like the bright debut of an ingeniously arch humorist, one whose hallmark is a calm approach to insanely improbable behavior.... The parodies here are priceless ... Sharp-edged and unpredictable, punctuated by moments of choice absurdist humor."
—Janet Maslin, New York Times

"This absurdly hilarious mystery about a bumbler's guilt-consumed life skewers the whole memoir thing and offers a fact/fiction-blurring meditation on the risky business of self-deception.... A searingly funny book. Grade: A-"
Entertainment Weekly
Read an excerpt from An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England and learn more about the book at the official website.

Brock Clarke is the author of The Ordinary White Boy, What We Won’t Do, and Carrying the Torch. He has twice been a finalist for a National Magazine Award in Fiction. His work has appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review, OneStory, the Believer, the Georgia Review, and the Southern Review; in the Pushcart Prize and New Stories from the South anthologies; and on NPR’s Selected Shorts. He teaches creative writing at the University of Cincinnati.

The Page 99 Test: An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England.

--Marshal Zeringue