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The Arsonist

Cover of The Arsonist

The Arsonist

A novel
Borrow Borrow
From the best-selling author of While I Was Gone and The Senator's Wife, a superb new novel about a family and a community tested when an arsonist begins setting fire to the homes of the summer people in a small New England town.

Troubled by the feeling that she belongs nowhere after working in East Africa for fifteen years, Frankie Rowley has come home--home to the small New Hampshire village of Pomeroy and the farmhouse where her family has always summered. On her first night back, a house up the road burns to the ground. Then another house burns, and another, always the houses of the summer people. In a town where people have never bothered to lock their doors, social fault lines are opened, and neighbors begin to regard one another with suspicion. Against this backdrop of menace and fear, Frankie begins a passionate, unexpected affair with the editor of the local paper, a romance that progresses with exquisite tenderness and heat toward its own remarkable risks and revelations.

Suspenseful, sophisticated, rich in psychological nuance and emotional insight, The Arsonist is vintage Sue Miller--a finely wrought novel about belonging and community, about how and where one ought to live, about what it means to lead a fulfilling life. One of our most elegant and engrossing novelists at her inimitable best.

This ebook edition includes a Reading Group Guide.
From the best-selling author of While I Was Gone and The Senator's Wife, a superb new novel about a family and a community tested when an arsonist begins setting fire to the homes of the summer people in a small New England town.

Troubled by the feeling that she belongs nowhere after working in East Africa for fifteen years, Frankie Rowley has come home--home to the small New Hampshire village of Pomeroy and the farmhouse where her family has always summered. On her first night back, a house up the road burns to the ground. Then another house burns, and another, always the houses of the summer people. In a town where people have never bothered to lock their doors, social fault lines are opened, and neighbors begin to regard one another with suspicion. Against this backdrop of menace and fear, Frankie begins a passionate, unexpected affair with the editor of the local paper, a romance that progresses with exquisite tenderness and heat toward its own remarkable risks and revelations.

Suspenseful, sophisticated, rich in psychological nuance and emotional insight, The Arsonist is vintage Sue Miller--a finely wrought novel about belonging and community, about how and where one ought to live, about what it means to lead a fulfilling life. One of our most elegant and engrossing novelists at her inimitable best.

This ebook edition includes a Reading Group Guide.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    ILater, Frankie would remember the car speeding past in the dark as she stood at the edge of the old dirt road. She would remember that she had been aware of the smell of smoke for a while. Someone having a fire, she had assumed then, and that would turn out to be ­correct--­though not in the way she was imagining it. She had the quick thought, briefly entertained amid the other, rushing thoughts that were moving through her tired brain, that it was odd for someone to be doing this, having a fire this ­late--­or this ­early--­on an already warm summer night.

    But in the moment she ­didn't go beyond her quick assumption, her fleeting thought. She smelled the smoke, she saw the car approaching, and she got quickly out of the road, stepping first into the ditch that ran alongside it, and then, because it was night and she worried that the driver might not see her in the dark, onto the scrubby bank, pulling herself up between two trees that stood there. By the time she turned around to face the road again, the car had passed her. She stood for a moment watching as the wink of the red taillights disappeared behind a rise in the road, appeared again, dropped from sight, and appeared once more; and then was gone, the car's sound fading into nothing, into the rustle and odd croak of the night. She'd been walking for more than an hour by then, awash in memories and images of the life she'd just left behind.

    She'd waked, as she'd known she would, at about ­one-­thirty, and in her jet lag and confusion, she ­didn't know where she was, or even, for just a second or two, who she was. She'd felt this way only a few times before in her ­life--­in childhood ­mostly--­a disorientation so profound that it momentarily wiped her consciousness clean. It left her breathless now, too, her heart knocking hard in her chest as she lay there slowly feeling the room and her ­life--­her sense of being precisely herself, ­Frankie--­return and settle around her. It took her a few seconds longer than that, though, to understand why she might be here, in this room that meant summer, family.

    She lay still for a while, feeling her body grow calm again, taking in the familiar shapes in the dark around her. The clock next to her on the bedside table glowed ­greenly--­now 1:40, now 1:45. She turned on her back and stretched. She heard an animal screech somewhere far off and the tick of something shifting somewhere in the old house.

    Two o'clock.

    Okay, sleep ­wasn't going to come again for a while. She got up. She dressed in the dark, pulling on the same clothes she'd shed onto the floor five hours earlier when she'd come, exhausted, upstairs to bed. Carrying her shoes in her hand, she went into the black hall, found the stairs, then the smooth wooden handrail, and descended slowly, each step loudly protesting her weight, even though she tried to stay at their edges on the way down.

    The bright moonlight fell into the living room, clearly delineating the furniture. She could see the deep old slipcovered chairs hunkered companionably by the fireplace. This was where her parents sat on chilly nights, usually reading. The couch was turned ­toward the view of the mountains. Behind it, the globe of the earth with its obsolete borders and nations was bulbous in its wooden stand. The chest of drawers that held dress-ups and puzzles and ­games--­Monopoly and Clue, Parcheesi, ­Scrabble--­was a large dark block in the far corner of the room. She could hear her parents' twinned snoring from their bedroom in the new wing down the hall from the kitchen, the wing they'd built this past...

About the Author-
  • Sue Miller is the best-selling author of the novels The Lake Shore Limited, The Senator's Wife, Lost in the Forest, The World Below, While I Was Gone, The Distinguished Guest, For Love, Family Pictures, and The Good Mother; the story collection Inventing the Abbotts; and the memoir The Story of My Father. She lives in Boston.

Reviews-
  • The New York Times Book Review "Entertaining and highly readable . . . Miller's scenes are terrific. She is expert at moving people in and out of rooms in a visual and easy way [and] describing physical chemistry and attraction in a way that manages to avoid all cliché . . . Fantastic sizzle, both sexual and spiritual . . . A cracking good romance . . . Will keep you reading." --Boston Globe "Subtle . . . Miller writes effectively about the tense underpinnings of a summer community . . . Full of Miller's signature intelligence about people caught between moral responsibility and a hunger for self-realization."
  • Ron Charles, The Washington Post "Thoughtful, intense . . . An ambitious, big-issue novel . . . The Arsonist takes place far removed from national news or world conflicts, but it, too, reflects the most urgent matters of our time . . . When even mentioning the widening distance between the classes is considered an act of class warfare, it's encouraging to watch Miller's novel negotiate this awkward fact of American life . . . The continuing miracle of Miller's compelling storytelling [is] she knows these people matter, and as she moves gently from one character's perspective to another, her sensitive delineation of their lives convinces us of that, too."
  • Elle "Miller eschews easy cliffhangers or narrative deceits. The momentum grows instead from her compassionate handling of these characters . . . Not all questions are answered, nor all mysteries solved, but the end of the book is imbued with the same quiet energy that's been building throughout; it's not happy, exactly--that would be too easy--but, in true Sue Miller fashion, it's triumphant."
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune "Lyrical, compelling . . . Miller's portrayal of the fragility of relationships and fear of the unknown--of the thing sthat happen to and around us that we can't control--are spot-on . . . Miller is a nuanced storyteller who portrays real life . . . Provocative, suspenseful, and emotional."
  • Providence Journal "A complex page-turner about class differences, family relationships, and the meaning of home . . . Miller is a master at mining the intricacies of human relationships . . . Miller explores with all her characters finding their place in the world and living a meaningful life." --The Cape Codder "Miller once again delivers a novel that, engrossing and rich, is a showcase for her unique ability to get into the nitty-grittys of familial and romantic relationships . . . Scene after scene unfolds--and reads--like life itself. With all its big questions, and all our small, yearning, maybe-right-maybe-wrong answers." --Summer Picks from Linda Wolfe "Miller's prose keeps you reading. Her sentences have a sumptuous quality to them."
  • Kirkus "A provocative novel about the boundaries of relationships and the tenuous alliance between locals and summer residents when a crisis is at hand . . . Miller, a pro at explicating family relationships as well as the fragile underpinnings of mature romance, brilliantly explores how her characters define what 'home' means to them and the lengths they will go to protect it." --Publishers Weekly "With her trademark elegant prose and masterful command of subtle psychological nuance, Miller explores the tensions between the summer people and the locals in a small New Hampshire town . . . In this suspenseful and romantic novel, Miller delicately parses the value of commitment and community, the risky nature of relationships, and the yearning for meaningful work." --Booklist "The heart of the story really lies in Sylvie and Alfie's marriage . . . Miller's portrayal of early Alzheimer's and the toll it takes on a family is disturbingly accurate and avoids the sentimental uplift prevalent in issue-oriented fiction . . . Miller captures all the complicated nuances of a family in crisis."
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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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