Monday, September 17, 2007

Brock Clarke's "An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England"

Brock Clarke is the author of The Ordinary White Boy, What We Won’t Do, and Carrying the Torch. He has twice been a finalist for a National Magazine Award in Fiction.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England, and reported the following:
Page 99 of An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England:

Mr. Frazier didn’t respond. He bought his paper from the machine outside the store (who knows why? Maybe as long as he didn’t enter the building, he could in good conscience continue calling it a store), then turned and began walking back home. He was really setting a good pace, and I broke a sweat trying to catch up with him. Soon after I did, we passed by those boys again, still sitting on the steps, as if waiting for us. You don’t often get a second chance in this world to say what you wanted to say, or ask what you wanted to ask. So I stopped in front of them, and grabbed a fistful of Mr. Frazier’s jacket to get him to stop, too. Mr. Frazier didn’t turn to face the boys but. like a spooked horse, looked at them sideways. I turned to face them, though, and I could feel my face get fiery red and I hoped that it shone on the boys like a beacon of sorts.

“Earlier,” I said to the boys, “you said something to Mr. Frazier here.”

“True,” one of the boys said. They both looked exactly the same, with their
faint mustaches, their flat alabaster stomachs, their nipple rings glinting and glistening in the sun.

“Well,” I said, “I’d like you to apologize to him. I think he deserves an

One of the boys shook his head, and said, “Fucked up.” He said this with
no malice or slyness or any emotion at all. It was delivered as a statement of fact.

“Hey!” I said, because I couldn’t take it anymore. Mr. Frazier had so much
life left in him, but even if he hadn’t, even when old people were taking up space and air, they’d lived through a lot and you had to give them some credit and respect. I moved toward the boys in what I hoped was a menacing fashion. When I did so, they stood up — also menacingly and I noticed that their white socks were pulled up very high, probably to their knees (I couldn’t tell exactly because of the length of their shorts). Why pull your socks so high? There was only one reason I could think of: these were the kind of guys who might have knives in their socks, except the socks were so high they could probably have

That's my page 99. Sam Pulsifer is the novel's first person narrator. When he was 18 years old, he accidentally burned down the Emily Dickinson House in Amherst, Massachusetts, killing two people in the bargain. After he gets out of prison, he discovers that not only has received letters from other people who want him to burn down other writers' homes in New England, but that someone has already done burned, or tried to, the Edward Bellamy House in Chicopee, Massachusetts. So, he's gone to visit Mr. Frazier, who he believes is the man who has tried to do the burning.
Read an excerpt from An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England and learn more about the book at the official website.

--Marshal Zeringue