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

Arsonist's Guide - burning lady memoirizer, letters, practical advice, authors' homes

News & Reviews

"An Arsonist's Guide contains sentences and images that could stand beside the works of the former owners of the literary residences put to flame. There is a single sentence of dialogue that . . . will paralyze any Willa Cather scholar. There is a lone paragraph describing a woman's head aflame . . . that could compel Stephen King to increase the fire insurance on his own New England house. Hell, Clarke himself had better buy a fire extinguisher or two from Home Depot. Who knows how many crazy firebug readers this book will goad?"

flames

"Sam Pulsifer is now one of the great naifs of American literature. . . . [A] rollicking, hilarious and subtly heartbreaking novel . . . [and] at the same time a wrenching examination of what happens when you pry up the floorboards, flake off the stucco, open up the books and see what's really going on between husband and wife, parents and children, friends and lovers."

match

"Funny, profound . . . Larded with grabby aphorisms . . . memorable images and bittersweet epiphanies, Clarke's novel is an agile melding of faux-memoir and mystery. Spot-on timing gives it snap, and a rich sense of perversity . . . lends texture. It's a seductive book with a payoff on every page."

flames

"Clarke's novel sizzles. . . . This straight-faced, postmodern comedy scorches all things literary, from those moldy author museums to the excruciating question-and-answer sessions that follow public readings. . . They're all singed under Clarke's crisp wit. . . . [An Arsonist's Guide] is written in an innocent, deadpan voice, packed full of Sam [Pulsifer]'s bittersweet observations and fueled by Clarke's satire. . . . Literature, Clarke suggests in this witty lament, is somehow the pain and salve of our lives. We're drawn to stories like a moth to you know what."

match

"Wildly, unpredictably funny. . . . An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England is as cheerfully oddball as its title. Its cover art includes a tiny cartoon sketch of a green-frocked literary lioness garlanded in flames, and that captures the irreverence of the author, Brock Clarke's, enterprise. Although it is his fourth book, it feels like the bright debut of an ingeniously arch humorist, one whose hallmark is a calm approach to insanely improbable behavior. . . . The parodies here are priceless . . . Sharp-edged and unpredictable, punctuated by moments of choice absurdist humor."

flames

"This absurdly hilarious mystery about a bumbler's guilt-consumed life skewers the whole memoir thing and offers a fact/fiction-blurring meditation on the risky business of self-deception. . . . A searingly funny book. Grade: A-"

match

"A brilliant novel."

flames

"A hilarious tale . . . wacky and wildly imaginative. . . . An Arsonist's Guide is a Matryoshka doll of a book. It's a novel, nested within a memoir, nested within a how-to-guide. . . . It's nearly impossible not to care about and laugh with Sam. He's a misunderstood outcast, a knight errant on a quest to clear his name. But in this hilarious and original novel he does much more: He appeals to the fool in everyone and comforts us in knowing that we're not alone."

match

"A sharp and witty satire. . . . Sam's disasters are good news for readers . . . particularly if they like their comic novels with a sharp edge, witty commentary and hilarious allusions. . . . 'Maybe we'll be like normal people,' Sam muses of a hopeful future, 'people who, after a long day's work, want to do nothing else but have a drink and read a book.' If you're one of those people, An Arsonist's Guide, that fine and delectable companion, goes equally well with red or white."

flames

"A witty, intensely clever piece of writing that scrutinizes our relationship with stories and storytelling. . . . Clarke composes with panache, packing his pages with offbeat humor, vibrant characters, and tender scenes."

match

"As a title, An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England has a lot to live up to. Happily, Brock Clarke's hilarious new novel makes good on its title and then some, with a loopily shambolic narrative as captivating as its feckless firebug narrator, Sam Pulsifer. . . . It's the perfect end-of-summer book, funny and sharp and smart enough to ease the transition from beach to boardroom. Just don't leave it near a pack of matches."

flames

"A smart, witty novel-staged-as-memoir . . . Clarke nails the suburban landscape in high satiric fashion. . . . Beneath satiric pokes at suburban America, the memoir craze and literary culture in general (the very title of the book is a winking reference to a popular literary form), there is honest heart here. . . . It's a blast-its story line rollicking and often absurd, its themes satisfyingly hefty. Clarke keeps the plot clipping along, each chapter launching you right into the next, and ultimately delivers an ending that upholds the intellectual comedy of the book and its themes (parent-child bonds, the consequences of mistakes, the flimsiness of genre) while lobbing us a few in the soft spots."

match

"Both philosophical and deeply funny . . . Resembles Richard Ford crossed with Borges: a thoughtful, playful exploration of everyday life, as well as a metafictional examination of the purpose stories serve in our lives."

flames

"Darkly comic . . . Bittersweet and ultimately sorrowful, Clarke's book suggests that we're all subject to the whims of the stories we tell ourselves."

match

"Enormously funny . . . a cautionary tale about the strength of stories to burn a path of destruction."

flames

"Every bit as quirky and engaging as its title . . . In content and style, An Arsonist's Guide evokes John Irving, with a dollop of Tom Wolfe tossed in for good measure. . . . Pulsifer's disarming charm and witty insight carry the day. And the premise of this beautifully constructed novel as well."

match

"[A] hilarious, breakthrough novel for Clarke."

flames

"The antic goings-on and over-the-top characters are so entertaining . . . A rousing climax."

match

"Mr. Clarke finds just the right voice for Sam, who narrates, and he studs the narrative with juicy aphorisms"

flames

"Very funny set-pieces and asides . . . [It] expertly eviscerate[s] fake memoirs . . . As the novel smoothly unfolds, it becomes clear that what Clarke has actually written is a profoundly serious book . . . Beneath the very specific circumstances of Sam's stumble and fall lies the familiar American tragedy."

match

"Irresistible . . . Clarke sets the pages ablaze with comedically evil set pieces. . . . Pulsifer is a lying dog, flawed and often drunk, and yet he's a fully sympathetic Everyman--not larger than life, but just about big enough."

flames

"Lit lovers of all stripes will find something in it that they'll love--after all, the mystery is about figuring out who's burning down the homes of some of America's most famous writers, from Edith Wharton's to Herman Melville's. And the writing? Darn good stuff."

match

"Brock Clarke flames entire genres of fiction in this clever and often hilarious tale."

flames

"We love An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England . . . Even a book's editor in Kentucky can occasionally find gems in the making: The Memory Keeper's Daughter, which looked like a classic from here long before it owned the New York Times paperback best-seller list. Water for Elephants, which went on to make Sara Gruen a literary superstar. And now An Arsonist's Guide."

match

"A tenderhearted black comedy that's reminiscent of classic works like John Irving's The World According to Garp. . . . What makes An Arsonist's Guide such an engaging and wildly original work is the captivating voice of Sam Pulsifer . . . Like all of literature's most compelling characters, it's hard to say goodbye to him when we turn the final page."

flames

"Clarke has created a character feebly struggling against fate in a situation both sad and funny, believable and preposterous....Entertaining."

match

"[A] delightfully dark story of Sam Pulsifer, the 'accidental arsonist and murderer' narrator who leads readers through a multilayered, flame-filled adventure about literature, lies, love and life.... Sam is equal parts fall guy and tour guide in this bighearted and wily jolt to the American literary legacy."

flames

"A subversively compelling, multilayered novel about the profound impact of literature (perhaps negative as well as positive). . . . Rendered masterfully by Clarke, Sam's narrative tone is so engagingly guileless that the reader can't help but empathize with him, even as his life begins to fall apart within the causal connections of these fires. . . . A serious novel that is often very funny and will be a page-turning pleasure for anyone who loves literature."

match

"Clarke has the ability to crack us up with his clever insight into human nature and suburban angst, but there is also a depth to his characters that helps raise the story above straight satire."

flames

"An absurd if weirdly compelling faux 'memoir,' which takes aim at the danger of stories-at least false ones . . . [An Arsonist's Guide] gets at some unexpectedly poignant emotional truths."

match

"Part mystery, part comedy, part insightful memoir, Arsonist defies the conventional formula in producing a wildly entertaining novel."

flames

"It is hysterical, it is tragic and it is maddening. . . . Like TV analysts who deconstruct Tiger Woods' swing, it's not easy to do justice to writers like Brock Clarke. But Iknow just enough to recommend An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England to anyone, and especially to anyone who wants to read the best, newest manifestation of great American writing."

match

"A quirky comic novel . . . strangely beguiling. . . . Clarke [has a] way with sly humorous observations."

flames

"It's difficult to think of a premise for a literary detective story . . . that could be more enticing. . . . [Clarke] depict[s] in a funny and heartbreaking manner the subtle ways in which parents, children and spouses fail each other . . . [and] brilliantly captures his characters' environments."

match

"[A] dark, dry, fast and furious novel."

flames

"Clarke's satire scorches a wide expanse of our cultural landscape. Left smoldering are Harry Potter books (unnamed but obvious); pretentious macho novelists; higher education - with a devastating caricature of an English professor who dismisses an array of major American writers with a single curt, crude sentence; vacuous suburbia; our increasingly nonliterate society and mendacious memoirs. ...Clarke can make you gasp...At the end of the short-story ancestor of "Arsonist's Guide," the narrator declares he is sick of talking about the fire and will never speak of it again. Lovers of satiric fiction will be grateful that he lied."

match

"Brock Clarke is our generation's Richard Ford and his arsonist, Sam Pulsifer, is an Everyman suburban nomad, a literary misadventurer who is as insightful and doomed as he is heartbreakingly hilarious. I loved this book to the nth power."

flames

"This is a sad, funny, absurd, and incredibly moving novel. Its comic mournfulness, its rigorous, break-neck narrative, delight. Bless Brock Clarke and his spookily human arsonist. They've given us a wonderful book about life, literature, and the anxieties of their influence."

match

"While I was reading this dark, funny, tragic novel, I would look at the people around me and feel sorry for them because they weren't occupying the same world I was; they weren't living, as I was, inside the compelling off-kilter atmosphere of Brock Clarke's pages. This is the best book I've read in a long time."

flames

"An incisive satire that takes on everything from authors to reading groups and Harry Potter . . . sharp wit."

match

"Clarke renders a refreshing send-up of the self-indulgent memoir, with a cast of characters by turns tragic and absurd."

flames

Fall Guide Picks: New York magazine's annual Fall preview issue recommends Arsonist's Guide along with 25 other fall titles, and it's also included in Fall previews in the San Francisco Chronicle, Denver Post, and San Jose Mercury News.

match