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

I’m on a desperate (or should I say deliberate?) search for a piece of postmodern fiction that I might actually enjoy-unfortunately Mr. Clarke’s book isn’t it. The “heartbreaking hilarity” was a bit lost on me. Anyone remember Cher in “Moonstruck” when she slaps Nicolas Cage across the face and shouts “Snap out of it!”? That’s what I wished I could do to these characters. It wasn’t that they were totally unsympathetic or without some redeeming qualities, its simply that they were so passive, leaving the reader to observe one after another steamrolled by the absurdity of life in these United States. Is that the point?

Though my discomfort persisted, I was determined to persevere and reach Mr. Clarke’s endpoint. I must say I was intrigued by the protaganist, Sam Pulsifer’s mother, unlike the paper figure of a wife he draws for Sam in the hapless Anne Marie. And Sam’s son Christian, though a minor character, is quite endearing. Clarke does keep you in suspense until the very end about the fates of all, but it isn’t pretty. Publishers Weekly describes the book as “a multilayered, flame-filled adventure about literature, lies, love and life” and terms Sam, our arsonist, as “equal parts fall guy and tour guide.” I’d add it also makes most non-fiction seem positively life-affirming and uplifting in comparison.

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