Two people in my book group agreed that this would be a good book to read and discuss. It’s definitely not a book I would have picked up on my own, but the enthusiasm with which my friend talked about this book and the idea that a book group encourages you to read something that you wouldn’t have otherwise read made me interested to read this.
An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England (AAGTWHINE) (after I was reading the book and realized I wasn’t taking a fancy to it I found it funny that the anagram of this book has the word “whine” in it) is about a man, Sam Pulsifer, who accidentally set fire to Emily Dickenson’s home and inadvertently killed two people at the age of 18. He goes to jail for ten years, and shortly after he is released, other writers’ homes start being the targets of arson. That is the premise.
None of the characters were sympathetic. Sam might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but the other arsons are slightly smarter and Sam just walks into each arson situation, vaguely aware that it’s probably not a good idea, but unable or unwilling to extricate himself. He doesn’t elicit any sympathy from the reader, as he knowingly makes poor decisions. For example, Sam, not having told his wife about his past, at one point lets her believe that he is cheating on her rather than tell her the truth about what he did as a dumb teenager. His thought that she will ultimately forgive him does not come to pass.
It’s not just Sam who is frustrating: his parents are both liars and drunks; citizens write to Sam asking that he burn down other writers’ homes for lame reasons; Sam’s wife hooks up with another guy shortly after she kicks Sam out for “cheating” on her…and claims she likes this guy because what they have in common is that Sam hurt both of them. Everyone in this book is annoying, petty, and generally not that intelligent.
The author’s writing can be verbose at times in his descriptions. It got to the point where I could skip whole pages once I had a sense of the setting and go right for the dialogue. I hate to do that but there was no other way I was going to finish this book.
When we discussed this at our book club meeting, most everyone didn’t like the book. Some of us even went so far as to say we really didn’t like the book. The person who recommended it, though, had really put a lot of thought into what the author was driving at. I felt guilty for not finding a deeper level in this book, and my friend’s analysis of some of the passages made me appreciate the story and themes a lot more, though that doesn’t change how I feel about this book.
Rating: 65 out of 100
Has anyone else read this book? I have this feeling in my gut that this post is somewhat like speaking into a void…