Sunday, April 6, 2008


I haven't put up a book post in a while because I've spent what felt like an eternity slogging through The Arsonist's Guide to Writers in New England these past few weeks. Back before Christmas in Longfellow Books I had picked it up and read the first chapter, which I found amusing, but as I read the book, aside from a few darkly amusing moments, I just found the story and characters incredibly frustrating and the end unsatisfying and depressing.

This novel with the appealing title by Brock Clarke is "the memoir of a bumbler," namely, Sam Pulsifer, who accidentally burned down the Emily Dickinson house in his youth, went to jail, got out 10 years later and started a new life, then screwed it all up worse than he did the first time. Sam seems incapable of telling the truth, and he's an expert at making the worst decision imaginable in any given situation. To make matters worse, his family members are all as screwed up as he is, and they are selfishly unwilling to help him. (The story feels like the antithesis to Lars and The Real Girl, a movie about a suffering guy who is surrounded by gentle, caring souls who help him in every way imaginable.)

Reading Arsonist's Guide irritated me to the extent that I found it difficult to read more than a few chapters at a time (in the same way I can't watch a marathon run of BBC's The Office without getting all stressed out). Ickie enjoyed it more than I did, and whereas I admit the author can turn a phrase well and tell an attention-grabbing, unique tale, I ended the book feeling bitter about being forced to spend 300 pages hating every jerk featured therein.

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