Thursday, July 22, 2010

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England, by Brock Clarke

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England
Brock Clarke
Algonquin, 2007
320 pages

Every so often, a book grabs your attention with the opening sentence and holds you all the way to the last period. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of those books. Brock Clarke’s attempt at a quirky, humorous series of misfortunes simply fails to achieve the most important goal of any story – making the reader care about the story.

An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England is the rambling diatribe of a hapless – in fact, clueless – self described ‘everyman’ who can’t help being railroaded for crimes he didn’t commit. Clarke foreshadows almost everything that is going to happen to Sam Pulsifer within the first 30 pages, so there is no mystery or tension to propel the reader along. There is an inevitability to everything that happens to Sam and he has no interest in even participating in his own life, blind to what is going on around him only because he has his hand over his own eyes. The entire plot is such a quagmire it prevents the story from being anything other than a bore. In addition to the entire story being uninteresting, the prose is grating. Told from Sam’s perspective, it is an annoying internal dialog where he consistently demonstrates that he is incapable of completing a full sentence without wandering off to some other topic. After about two chapters of this I was not only frustrated with reading it, I didn’t care about what happened to any of the characters, especially Sam. Listening to him tell his story I quickly understood why he didn’t have any friends and nobody wanted to talk to him about anything. Even Sam is uninterested in himself, which leaves anyone reading his story wondering why we should be interested in him either.

I’m not sure if Clarke was attempting to paint a picture of what it is like inside the mind of a hopeless victim of life. But whether it was or not, the story really missed the mark and only succeeded in making me wish I had purchased something else to read.

For more reviews by me, visit my blog here.


fairyhedgehog said...

Thank you for reading this so that the rest of us don't have to!

I might have picked it up as the title is intriguing. It sounds like it's the best bit of the book.

moonrat said...

oh dear.

i do know my mother heard about this book on NPR about two years ago and bought it, but hasn't been able to actually read it since then. mostly i think because she wasn't as interested in it as she was hoping from the premise.

JES said...

Like fairyhedgehog, I was grabbed right away by the title, and had considered reading it just based on that. Appreciate the insights into what lies between the covers -- thanks!

Alison's Book Marks said...

I have heard completely mixed reviews on this book - either people loved it or they hated it. I enjoyed your review, though, as always. Thanks!