In the High Peaks

Monday, August 11, 2014

"Don't Let it End" Madness and Sue Miller's The Arsonist

I'm in the midst of three books, two of which I will be very sad when I reach the final page. The third, Wolf Hall, I'm admiring and enjoying immensely, but I will be able to bid adieu to it without becoming undone. I read about 30-35 pages of Wolf Hall per day. Before I turn to it, I prepare a fully caffeinated cup of Darjeeling tea and totally comfy-size myself because I need fully devoted concentration so that I don't miss a single detail. It's a slow read this way, but well worth it.

So the books I'm getting sad about finishing are as follows:
I'm entranced by Sue Miller's recently published novel, The Arsonist. Miller writes about relationships so deeply, with so much nuance and layering that I'm amazed by her artistry. Of the previous books of hers that I've read, I'd say While You Were Gone (spell-binding!) and The Senator's Wife are among her best. I know many have acclaimed her best-selling debut novel, The Good Mother, published way back in the 1970s, which I never got around to reading because I was enjoying my free and single twenties at that time.

So, right at the moment, I can't think of another American novelist who writes about relationships as deeply and as nuanced (there goes that word again) as Miller. Regrettably, Lake Shore Limited was an exception to this statement.

In The Arsonist, Frankie comes home to her family's summer house in New Hampshire from her career as a humanitarian aid worker in East Africa to discover that her parents are facing a crisis: Frankie's father is rapidly descending into dementia. Frankie isn't on solid ground herself because she's discovered that after 15 years in Africa, she needs a less transient way of life. She is fairly certain that she will not be returning to her life in Africa when the summer is past. To add interest, Frankie gradually becomes involved with Bud, the new owner and editor of the small town's newspaper, an expatriate journalist from the whirlwind of Washington politics. In the midst of this fascinating collection of inter-familial and community relationships comes the spate of fires consuming the town's summer homes, night after night, and the certainty that an arsonist is in their midst. Yes, much of the novel's suspense resides in the escalating interpersonal dynamics, but the fires threaten to push aside communal and familial ties.
This is top-notch fiction--Okay! I'll say it--phenomenal women's fiction, and I say "women's fiction," only because many men tend to be less interested in the interpersonal dynamics of familial relationships.  Highly recommended!!!

2007 Winner of the Nero Wolf Award *and* 2007 Gumshoe Award: The other novel I can't bear to see come to an end! It's All Mortal Flesh by Julia Spencer-Fleming. Just loving it, as I love all of the books in her Millers Kill series. Too good to miss.


  1. I had the same experience with Wolf Hall - slow going and very well done (historical fiction for the historian, I think), yet I have not been in a hurry to read Bring Up the Bodies.

    1. Hi, JoAnn,
      I'm glad you've shared that you found it slow-going. That's okay with me, because the novel is extremely well-done, as you've noted. But I have to have other books going at the same time, to give me a rest from the intensity.
      I bought a really clean hardcover copy of Bringing up the Bodies at a book sale, but I agree, I won't be reading it this calendar year.

  2. My brain just won't work with these heavy (literal and figurative) tomes. Too much to absorb and think about.