Monday, December 31, 2007

Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England

I recently read a book that I am just crazy over, although not crazy enough to do what the title suggests. An arsonist’s guide to writers’ homes in New England, by author Brock Clarke, is a novel about an accidental arsonist of Emily Dickinson's house (and accidental murderer in the process). It also covers a wide range of issues from parental and marriage relationships as well as what it means to have lived your life not quite what you were hoping for. The Washington Post called the book a “straight-faced, postmodern comedy,” while the book can be found in our catalog under the subject heading Black humor (Literature). Clarke even has his own mini guide set up on the book’s website named “The Arsonist’s View” where you can create a blurb for your own memoir, read some would-be arsonist’s letters, and find some practical advice on becoming an arsonist. For all of this irreverent humor, however, I found the narrator’s poignant desperation to be the best part of the book. There is a sad sweetness in the way he describes his parents, his children, and even the group of stock brokers he lives with in his ten-year stay at a minimum security prison. But maybe that innocent sweetness is what is required in what, essentially, is a book about how to fail and succeed at life at the same time, and burn a couple of houses down along the way.

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