Review by Booklist Review
"New Englander Sam Pulsifer always insisted that burning down Emily Dickinson's Amherst home was an accident. The jury wasn't convinced. Now, after serving 10 years in prison, the 28-year-old is determined to get his life back on track: he gets married, has a couple of kids, and moves into a cookie-cutter Massachusetts suburb called Camelot. But the tranquility doesn't last. After a stranger convinces Sam's wife that her husband is a philanderer, the hapless young man moves back in with his parents. (Since their son's incarceration, the once scholarly Pulsifers have drowned themselves in drink.) At his parents' home, Sam finds hundreds of letters from twisted souls requesting that he burn down other famous writers' abodes. When the residences of Edith Wharton and Mark Twain are set ablaze, Sam becomes the chief suspect. Clarke (Carrying the Torch, 2005) renders a refreshing send-up of the self-indulgent memoir, with a cast of characters by turns tragic and absurd. Among the most memorable: a flame-haired English professor who disparages every literary lion with the most despicable of four-letter words."--"Block, Allison" Copyright 2007 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Clarke's fourth book (after the story collection Carrying the Torch) is the 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. Growing up in Amherst, Mass., with an editor for a father and an English teacher for a mother, Sam was fed endless stories that fueled (literally and figuratively) the rest of his life. Thus, the blurred boundaries between fact and fiction, story and reality become the landscape for amusing and provocative adventures that begin when, at age 18, Sam accidentally torches the Emily Dickinson Homestead, killing two people. After serving 10 years, Sam tries to distance himself from his past through college, employment, marriage and fatherhood, but he eventually winds up back in his parents' home, separated from his wife and jobless. When more literary landmarks go up in flames, Sam is the likely suspect, and his determination to find the actual arsonist uncovers family secrets and more than a bit about human nature. Sam is equal parts fall guy and tour guide in this bighearted and wily jolt to the American literary legacy. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
When Sam Pulsifer's parents separated for three years during his childhood, his mother lied about his father's whereabouts and also told Sam ghost stories about the Emily Dickinson House in his hometown of Amherst, MA. At age 18, he broke into the house one night to verify these stories, got spooked by a noise, dropped a lit cigarette, burned down the house, and unwittingly killed its two occupants. After ten years in a minimum security prison, Sam moved to the nearby suburbs to live an anonymous life, attend college, marry, and raise children. All is well until the son of the couple who died in the fire shows up on his doorstep, and fires begin breaking out at the homes of other New England writers. While trying to unravel the mystery of the fires, Sam uncovers the deceptions that have molded his life. Clarke (Ordinary White Boy) has created a character feebly struggling against fate in a situation both sad and funny, believable and preposterous. It's a setting so bizarre that the clear moral lesson smacks of sarcasm. In the end, however, this quirky story is entertaining and readable. Recommended.-Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island, Coll. of Continuing Education Lib., Porvidence (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A subversively compelling, multilayered novel about the profound impact of literature (perhaps negative as well as positive). On one level, this is a book about the writing of a book, detailing the experiences that have inspired narrator Sam Pulsifer to compose a volume with the same title as this one. As a teenager, Sam took a tour of his hometown's Emily Dickenson house. When he returned that night, he accidentally burned it down, killing two who were staying upstairs. Though Sam presents himself as an eternal innocent, doing his best to put this unfortunate incident behind him, his narrative offers the perspectives of others who suggest Sam isn't who he appears to be, and that there's no such thing as an accident. On another level, this is a story about stories--the stories that Sam feels sealed his fate, the stories by which we live our lives, the stories we tell ourselves. As a loving father and husband and a dutiful son following his prison sentence, Sam does his best to write his life's story anew, yet he discovers that, in the narratives of others, arson is what defines his character. When a series of other legendary New England literary domiciles are torched, even Sam starts wondering how or whether he is involved. Rendered masterfully by Clarke (What We Won't Do, 2001, etc.), 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. Sam ultimately forces himself to play detective (admitting that the mystery genre is one he never read), while recognizing that he might well be the criminal he is investigating. Is Sam an unconscious arsonist? Is he the product of a dysfunctional (though decidedly bookish) family? Is someone trying to set him up? Can the reader trust Sam? Can Sam trust himself? A serious novel that is often very funny and will be a page-turning pleasure for anyone who loves literature. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.