Oh Come ON...
by Brock Clarke
I get the joke, I really do, but it got old. Literary satire is funny, and Clarke's riff on the ubiquity of memoir was hilarious. It was probably worth reading the book just for those two pages. But the rest of the story tried so hard to be darkly comic that it was nothing short of sad.
Years ago, I remember taking a young friend to see a "Mr. Bean" movie - remember "Mr.Bean?" He's that goofy guy played by Rowan Atkinson who is always getting into Lucille Ball-esque scrapes. But my little friend, about halfway through the movie, just rolled his eyes and said "Oh come on - NO ONE is THAT stupid!" Even though it was a comedy, home of the outrageous, some line had been crossed into the realm of "yeah, right." That is how I felt about Sam, the main character of Arsonist's Guide. A self-described "bumbler," he just gets himself into more and more trouble as the story plays out. And I like comedy, but too much of this involved stuff that just is not funny - losing his marriage because of his inarticulateness and occasional lying, becoming estranged from his children, and parental alcoholism are three prevalent dramas of the story. None of those things is knee-slapping funny to me. Serious topics can be dealt with in a humorous way, but Clarke fails to do this.
The end of the story is supposed to bring about some sort of ironic redemption (if there is such a thing), but I thought it just compounded Sam's problems. When someone is trapped in the web of their own untruths, it is hard for the reader to buy into more lies, even if they are well-intentioned. This novel got a lot of critical acclaim, but except for some well written meditations on reading and writing and the literary life that were woven into the narrative, it did not do much for me.