An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England

I just counted and I’ve read (or attempted to read, some of the books I chose were so bad I stopped [Fifth Business and that awful, horrible fucking Freebird book]) forty-one books so far this year. I can say with absolute conviction that thus far my favorite novel of the year is Brock Clarke’s An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England.

The fact that when I saw Brock Clarke read a month ago he mentioned how he was so excited to be in Minneapolis because of The Replacements and that he spent the day singing “Skyway” did not influence my decision at all. Honest. But like I said over on the Paul in reference to Joshua Furst’s Sabotage Cafe (probably my second favorite novel of the year so far), I can’t help but support and promote authors with such excellent taste in music. However, Clarke has more then just good taste in music. His writing kicks some serious ass.

Briefly, the book is about Sam Pulsifer a bumbling kind of guy who accidentally burns down Emily Dickinson’s house and kills two people when he’s 17. After spending ten years in jail, Sam marries and has children and never reveals his secret, of course it all comes back to haunt him. Sam tells us his story about how the past comes back to haunt him and essentially writes his future. Along the way he takes potshots at the anonymity of suburbia, bookstores, book clubs, memoirs, and those American writers we hold in such high esteem.

This is definitely a book for anyone who loves books, but it’s also a book for anyone who loves engaging funny stories.

The thing that I love the most about An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England is that it happens to be funny to the point of absurd yet retains this sort of emotional honesty that is ultimately quite moving. The fact that Clarke has pulled this off so well is kind of stunning.

I dare you to look at your bookshelf and try to find six books that manage to be funny and moving at the same time. I bet you can’t find them. It’s hard to do both and it takes a writer with amazing skill to manage it.

Much like King Dork last year, this is one of those books that I tell everyone I know to read and if they don’t like it, I will buy it from them and give it to a home that will love it.

If you still need some convincing, read an excerpt or Clarke’s Largehearted Boy Book Notes Essay.

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  1. david 18.Oct.07 at 3:56 pm

    I loved Brock Clarke’s novel, and am in solidarity wit h you about The Boy Who Cried Freebird. I dropped it after two chapters.

    Thanks for the link to Clarke’s Book Notes essay, I’m hoping LHB will be back online this evening once everything is restored (cross your fingers).

  2. Jodi 18.Oct.07 at 4:23 pm

    I don’t know how far I got in Freebird. I only made it to that awful Ozzy Osbourne story and quit. How did that get published?

  3. Jodi 18.Oct.07 at 9:25 pm

    Thank you creamcitian. We actually talked about that article in writing class last night. I hope the unedited versions get published. They’d be a great, great read.

  4. Jodi 18.Oct.07 at 9:28 pm

    P.S. I fixed that long, long link. I hope that’s okay.

  5. creamcitian 18.Oct.07 at 10:17 pm

    darn you all to heck for editing my comment!!! who do you think you are – an editor of raymond carver’s? aha aha. ok, that sucked. thanks for making the link all purty.

  6. Jodi 18.Oct.07 at 10:21 pm

    Well, Raymond Carver might owe a great debt to that editor. Whatever the dude did (too lazy to look up his name), he did something right. After all, that was the collection that rocketed Carver to fame. I think that’s why I am so curious about seeing the unedited collection to see how much the editor really change/influenced the final stories I have read and loved.

    So yes, the way I see it, creamcitian, you should thank me a lot. baby, I’ll make you a star.

  7. david 19.Oct.07 at 7:48 pm

    I posted Mitch Myers’ Book Notes essay for the Freebird book this morning, and gave up trying to find something nice to say about it.

    The surprising thing is that many critics (music critics mostly) can’t fawn enough over the thing.

  8. Jodi 19.Oct.07 at 7:55 pm

    That really suprises me. Because it’s not just that the actual content of the book was boring or bad, but the writing itself was absolutely awful — like beginning creative writing awful.

    It sucks that crap like that can get published and some really geniuinely good stuff sits on some harddrive somewhere with no audience to read it.

  9. Tam 21.Oct.07 at 11:24 am

    I wanted to read that – thanks to your recommendation, it’s moved to the top of my list.

  10. Jodi 21.Oct.07 at 11:26 am

    It’s really great and I suspect you will really like it because you have that sort of irreverant bent yourself. I know you’ll love it.


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