Brock Clarke, 2007, 303 p.
This post may be a bit longer because An Arsonist’s Guide… gave me quite a bit to think about. I’m kind of a Neonihilist ™, which is my own invention and hard to explain, but, in a nutshell, it means that I feel that life has no meaning–we are here and then we’re gone. Everything between birth and death don’t matter a damn, other than procreation to replace ourselves. My views differ from true Nihilism because I do subscribe to a moral code. I feel that anarchy would destroy us, which defeats our procreation purpose. Even though this sounds depressing, it isn’t. Having this point of view has released me from many of the petty worries and disappointments that plague most of the human race. Things just don’t matter that much. I live for the moment and try to enjoy the short amount of time I have here on this planet. I feel compassion and empathy for those who seek, because they don’t try to comprehend the futility of their struggles.
I thoroughly enjoyed An Arsonist’s Guide… due to the fact that it somehow tapped into my Neonihilist ™ philosophy. The main character, Sam Pulsifer, was a smart idiot. He never seemed to be able to connect with people in a meaningful way and all of his relationships were empty. It was like he was living in the shadows as an observer, even while he was interacting with others. The entire novel was imbued with a disconnect from reality, and everyone seemed similar to Sam in their solitude and loneliness. This was a novel of apathy during action, and it kind of reminded me of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner in its approach to plot and characterization.
I believe this book was peddled as a black comedy, but it isn’t comedic at all. It’s a dichotomy; a bleak and hopeful dystopian novel. I wonder why Mr. Clarke wanted to end it tragically, but it really doesn’t matter to me, because I was into the writing much more than the story.
Mr. Clarke knows how to turn a phrase, and this novel was quite philosophical. Here are a few examples:
“…maybe this is also what it means to be a child: always needing your parents and hating them for it, but still needing them, and maybe needing to hate them, too, and probably that was an old story as well.” (p. 75)
“This is what poverty does, I guess: it ruins your memory of more beautiful things, which is just another reason why we should try as hard as we can to get rid of it.” (p. 192)
I highly recommend this.