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Publisher's Summary

As a teenager, it was never Sam Pulsifer's intention to torch an American landmark, and 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 10 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 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, and 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 tour de force: a novel disguised as a memoir, a mystery that cloaks itself in humor, and an artful piece of literature that bites the hand that breeds it.

©2007 Brock Clarke; (P)2007 Random House, Inc. Random House Audio, a division of Random House, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"A serious novel that is often very funny and will be a page-turning pleasure for anyone who loves literature." (Kirkus Reviews)
"[A] delightfully dark story....Sam is equal parts fall guy and tour guide in this bighearted and wily jolt to the American literary legacy." (Publishers Weekly)

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Average Customer Ratings

Overall

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  • Overall

A downer of a book

I had read a great review of this book and was thrilled to have found it on audible. However once I started listening I found it was very slow, plodding and exhausting to listen to. At first I decided that the reader's dead pan style was ruining what at times could have been a sarcastically funny narrative. So--I kept at it and finished the whole thing. While the book had an occasional interesting insight -- the "good" parts never materialized and over all it was depressing. Even when the reader perked up a bit it was still deadly. It focused on betrayal of those we love, our families, spouses, friends and most of all ourselves. It presented such as nasty, hateful view of life that I am very sorry I lasted through the whole reading. It lacked any kind of redemption and left a really dark cloud hanging over the heads of the reader, the listener, and the poor characters portrayed. I hope I've learned not to be such a compulsive "finisher" of things I've started. I would have been better off walking away from this one.

41 of 44 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Felt like burning the book.

The main character was unappealingly flat and almost autistic in nature. He seems such a literalist (Asperger's Syndrome, perhaps?) - so one dimensional - that I found his character difficult to relate to. That's not to say autistic characters can't work as the main voice in a story. The Dog Who Barked in the Night is a splendid example of this. I really kept trying to like this book, as the story line was so original and quirky, but getting through it was a chore for me. Can't recommend this one.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Charlene
  • Seattle, WA, United States
  • 11-09-07

disappointing

I expected to enjoy this book, because I am a fan of mysteries, dark humor and literary history. Unfortunately, I couldn't get through the first few chapters. The main character is uncompelling and the action is very, very slow. I'm not sure why this is considered a funny book, since nothing in the first 2 hours is remotely amusing. I think this is only the 2nd audiobook in 3 years that I have not finished.

9 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Toby
  • NEW ROCHELLE, NY, United States
  • 07-18-13

Honestly not that good

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

My main problem with the book is that I became very tired of the narrator "bumbling" his way to pain and failure. Those who do not mind listening to someone end up in easily avoidable painful situations may enjoy this book. I honestly have no idea why it became so popular

What was most disappointing about Brock Clarke’s story?

The main character. He was painful to be inside the head of. He was flaccid and useless, letting bad things happen instead of doing anything active. Having taken a class with Brock this is not surprising. He tends to pick books with narrators that are difficult to like let alone relate to

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

It had some decent turns of phrase, but really no, it was pretty unenjoyable

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Less than 1 Star

don't waste a minute on this ridiculous novel. It made me crazy just getting through it and, only because I must finish anything I start, did I even go that far.
It just droned on and on and seemed to have nothing meaningful to say. Just taking the time to type a review of it makes me feel as nutty as the main character.!!

9 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Well written and well crafted

Clarke writes with ease, complexity and humor. The story only gets more interesting as new characters are introduced. The reader does a brilliant job of capturing Sam's innocence and insights.

  • Overall

I am trying to get through it

Maybe it is just me, but this book seems really inane. The main character is so self absorbed, he speculates on every little thing. Maybe I will change my mind if I ever get through the book, but right now it is an ordeal.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jilleen
  • WINNIPEG, Manitoba, Canada
  • 07-13-10

don't miss it!

I cannot understand the reviews of others of this book, I was enchanted and bespelled by this perfectly bizarre story, when I don't have any new books on my Ipod, and I find myself on a plane or something, this is my go to audiobook, I can listen to the story, and the fantastic narrator over and over again. Definitely download this book!

3 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Please get the narrator an encyclopedia

OK, I admit, this is super nitpicky, but in the first chapter, the narrator says the two main place names wrong. "Holyoke" is pronounced "whole-yolk" and Amherst has a silent H to anyone who's ever spent time there. I don't know why this is so annoying, but I guess it feels like an indication of a bigger inauthenticity in this book, and a sloppy detail they should have easily caught.

5 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

I understand why people dislike this book

Despite many poor reviews I kept coming back to this title in my wish list. Yes, it is a novel that doesn't satisfy, but it also does not completely let you down.

The narrator does not add to the story, neither does the main character, who is whiny and constantly making the wrong choices. You do want to reach out and strangle him.

What saves the story and keeps you listening is the writer's occasionally perfect pieces of figurative language and 1 or 2 universal truths like a person might find when reading a piece of higher literature. I liked the idea that we are all, at some level of consciousness, hoping we are not in our own lives a specific character that we have read. Also, it's intriguing to consider the idea that many people who love to read despise the classics and would relish burning the homes of these classic writers to the ground.

0 of 2 people found this review helpful