Random House: Bringing You the Best in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Children's Books
Authors
Books
Features
Newletters and Alerts

Buy now from Random House

  • The Arsonist
  • Written by Sue Miller
  • Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9780307594792
  • Our Price: $25.95
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - The Arsonist

Buy now from Random House

  • The Arsonist
  • Written by Sue Miller
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780385351706
  • Our Price: $11.99
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - The Arsonist

Buy now from Random House

  • The Arsonist
  • Written by Sue Miller
    Read by Sue Miller
  • Format: Unabridged Compact Disc | ISBN: 9780307876010
  • Our Price: $40.00
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - The Arsonist

Buy now from Random House

  • The Arsonist
  • Written by Sue Miller
    Read by Sue Miller
  • Format: Unabridged Audiobook Download | ISBN: 9780307876027
  • Our Price: $20.00
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - The Arsonist

Buy now from Random House

  • The Arsonist
  • Written by Sue Miller
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780804194556
  • Our Price: $26.00
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - The Arsonist

Buy now from Random House

  • The Arsonist
  • Written by Sue Miller
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780307741790
  • Our Price: $15.95
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - The Arsonist

The Arsonist

    Select a Format:
  • Book
  • eBook
  • Audiobook

A novel

Written by Sue MillerAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Sue Miller



eBook

List Price: $11.99

eBook

On Sale: June 24, 2014
Pages: 320 | ISBN: 978-0-385-35170-6
Published by : Knopf Knopf

Audio Editions

$40.00

Published by: Random House Audio

Read by Sue Miller
On Sale: June 24, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-307-87601-0
More Info...

Read by Sue Miller
On Sale: June 24, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-307-87602-7
More Info...
Listen to an excerpt
Visit RANDOM HOUSE AUDIO to learn more about audiobooks.


The Arsonist Cover

Bookmark,
Share & Shelve:

  • Add This - The Arsonist
  • Email this page - The Arsonist
  • Print this page - The Arsonist
ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PRAISE PRAISE
READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
EVENTS EVENTS
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

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.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

I

Later, 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 year because they were ­retiring—­retiring to this farmhouse they had used as a summer home for as long as Frankie could remember. She stood still and listened for a long moment. She thought she could distinguish one from another, her father’s snores low and regular, the proverbial sawing of logs; her mother’s more intermittent, more fluttery.

She thought of their faces as they’d looked at the dining room table earlier tonight, both turned to her inquisitively, both seeming to ask to understand something of who she was now, both seeming to want something from her, something she could feel herself pulling against giving, as usual.

She had a sense, suddenly, of how useless it was, that reflex. Probably they were just being polite. Probably the questions they were asking had been designed to keep the sense of a conversation going. Her resistance seemed to her now the residue of some childish impulse that had stayed with her into adulthood, the impulse to keep her life from them, not to let them own it.

She sat down in one of the chairs by the fireplace. As she bent to pull on her shoes, the smell of old ashes rose ­toward her, and she felt flooded with a sense of ­nostalgia—­but a kind of aimless nostalgia. She ­couldn’t locate its source. Nostalgia for this place? For something in her past here? Or, perhaps, lost to her, in her past elsewhere? She sat there for a long moment, swept by this formless, hungry feeling.

Then she stood up, walked through the dining room, the kitchen, and came outside, setting the screen door of the little porch carefully, soundlessly, back into its wooden frame.

The moon was bright here, bright on the mown grass around the house and the field beyond it, bright on the gravel driveway that led to the blackness of the trees at the driveway’s end. The air was cool and smelled fresh after the ­closed-­in warmth of the house. The noise of the gravel under her shoes seemed explosively loud.

When she got to the road, she turned left, away from town, and emerged from the dark well under the trees. The moon made a glowing white band of the road in front of her, made the woods on each side of the road read as more deeply black. As she walked, she was going over the steps that had brought her here the day before, a day that had gone on and on, that had lasted more than thirty-two hours as she traveled north and then west, across continents and oceans and time zones.

She saw herself in Lamu, climbing down onto the old wooden ferry that plied the water between the island and the airport, holding the hand of the ­weather-­beaten, skinny ferryman as she stepped from the pier to the ­boat’s edge, then to the ­built-­in bench that curved inside along its hull, a bench covered in fresh straw matting. There were assorted other travelers waiting to be helped on, too, including a few tourists and a fat woman wearing a buibui. She looked ancient, her heavy, sallow face deeply lined, but Frankie knew from experience in Africa that she might have been only a few years older than she herself was. The woman was carrying two live chickens, white and plump, held upside down. This seemed calming to them. They were quiet anyway, they jerked their heads back and forth, looking around with a mild disinterest at everything within their purview.

The last to arrive were two younger women in head scarves. Once the boat had pushed off from the dock, once the ancient motor had caught and they were out on the choppy gray water, the girls pulled their scarves off, and the breeze lifted their thick dark hair. One of them closed her eyes and shook her head slowly in pleasure.

During the short trip across the channel, Frankie watched the dhows heading out to sea or returning, the one belling lateen sail turned this way or that to catch the wind. She looked back at the stone town rising behind the dusty waterside quay. She’d stayed for just four days this time, alone in one of the tall town houses. She’d slept out on the rooftop under a lattice covered with jasmine and bougainvillea and waked before dawn each morning to the electronically amplified call to prayer, to the rich erotic smell of the jasmine. She’d walked the streets slowly, avoiding the open-water channel, the meandering donkeys. She looked into the open shops, she bought food and trinkets from the street vendors. She’d wanted to mark what she thought might be the end of her life in Africa, and this was a place she had particularly loved.

On the other side of the wide channel, everyone disembarked in nearly perfect reverse order and walked up the sandy path to what constituted the ­airport—­a few ­thatched-­roof pavilions and huts where others were waiting, a short runway with a small plane parked on it. Everyone, including the chickens, got into this plane, each person having to lower her head when she passed through the narrow, low door hatch.

As they flew, Frankie leaned against the window and watched the plane’s winged shadow move across the steady ­brown and green of the savanna below. Occasionally they passed over a village with thatched roofs, or tin roofs winking in the sunlight, and Frankie could see the rising smoke from cooking fires and people standing in the cleared spaces of red dirt, looking up, shading their eyes.

In Nairobi, she took a taxi home. She ­repacked her small bag quickly. Then she carried it, wheeling her larger bag, too, out to where the taxi driver waited at the gate by the guardhouse, talking in Kikuyu to Robert, the day guard. As the cab took her back to the airport, the sun set quickly, undramatically, equatorially: day, then night.

The driver helped her into the chaos of the ­brightly lighted airport with her large bag, and she checked it through to Boston. Then there was the long wait in uncomfortable orange plastic chairs for the plane to Amsterdam, delayed for some reason or other, as planes in and out of Nairobi often were. It was almost midnight when she finally boarded and settled into her seat. A tall blond flight attendant with thick, almost clownish makeup came by with a warmed hand towel, then with a packet containing socks, a miniature toothbrush with a tube of toothpaste, and a sleep mask. Frankie had the sense of the beginning of different rules for life, different expectations. The note of improvisation was falling away, the developed world was beginning to encircle her.

The sky outside the plane was dark, and she slept, a broken, uncomfortable sleep, alternately too hot and too cold and full of vivid, disturbing dreams she couldn’t remember when she woke. The plane was squalid as they disembarked, blankets and pillows thrown on the floor along with trash, newspapers. She saw little empty nip bottles wedged into seat-back pockets here and there.

In Amsterdam, where it was morning, the airport smelled of espresso, there were expensive ­first-­world goods for sale in the shops, there were people at computer stations and on cell phones, there was real ­luggage—­not boxes taped and tied, not old suitcases held together with ropes. Frankie had a ­two-­hour wait. She wandered in and out of the ­duty-­free shops for a while, though she ­didn’t buy anything. She startled herself with her reflection in a mirror in front of a perfume shop. She stopped and stepped ­toward it. She ­didn’t look particularly ­American—­a tall woman wearing a white blouse and khaki pants, her long wavy red hair pulled back, her pale face washed out without makeup. A missionary from Scotland, she thought. A dour anthropologist from the Netherlands. A very tired missionary or anthropologist. She went into a women’s bathroom and washed her face with the ­odd-­smelling soap. She brushed her hair. She put on fresh eye makeup. She ­didn’t look very different, but she felt better.

On the flight to Boston, there was a movie, astonishing to Frankie in its stupidity and crudeness. Was this all right now in the States? Had she lived in Africa too long? She looked around at the others watching it with earphones in, watched as their faces changed in amusement. From time to time, she heard the ripples of light laughter sweep through the plane.

The sun was bright as they came in for the landing in Boston. There were sailboats and motorboats on the ­dark blue water, their wakes making curling white lines behind them. There was the familiar urban skyline off in the distance and the closer village one across from the airport, the ­toylike ­old-­fashioned wooden houses seeming to look out benignly over the water at the boats and the airport activity. Frankie was struck, as she often was on the return to the States, particularly in good weather, at how pretty everything was, how ­fresh-looking, how clean. Tears rose to her eyes.

The bus north to New Hampshire was loading up as she arrived at its bay. There were only twenty or so scattered passengers, so Frankie had a seat to herself. She fell into it with a great sense of relaxation and relief. The driver came on board and started the engine.

The bus passed quickly through the streets around the station, and then they were on the highway. Frankie watched the sprawl around Boston fall away. She settled back for the long ride into a green that seemed vast and unused compared with Africa. She watched it rolling by, emptied, only occasionally a house, a farm, a gas station. She thought suddenly of Sam, one of her colleagues at the NGO she worked for. He had seen a photo of her family’s country house once, with the overgrown, blooming meadows stretching out forever beyond it. “What crops are you raising here?” he had asked, pointing. When Frankie said, “Nothing,” he shook his head in wonderment. “All that land and no farming.” And here she was, she ­thought—­back where she belonged, in the prodigal Western world of no farming. Undeniably an American after all. She felt this in some pointed way, since, for the first time in the fifteen years she’d lived in Africa and come home to visit her family in the States, she ­didn’t have a return ticket. She ­didn’t know when she was going back. Or if she was.

She leaned her head against the cool glass and dozed, then woke, then dozed again. The sun was getting lower in the afternoon sky when the bus pulled off the highway. They were approaching Winslow, and then they were there, at the little ­grocery-­store-­cum-­gas-­station that served as a bus stop. As they rounded the corner to the parking area behind it, Frankie saw several people waiting outside. It took her a few seconds to realize that one of ­them—­the old woman sitting alone on a bench in front of the big glass window under a faded sign that advertised Salada tea—­was her mother.
Sue Miller

About Sue Miller

Sue Miller - The Arsonist

Photo © Elena Seibert

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.

Praise

Praise

“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.”
            —The New York Times Book Review

“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.”
            —Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“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.”
            —Elle 
 
“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.”
            —Minneapolis Star Tribune
 
“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.”
            —Providence Journal 

“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.”
            —Kirkus
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of The Arsonist, best-selling author Sue Miller’s gripping new novel about a small New England town that is rocked by a series of fires with mysterious origins.

About the Guide

From the best-selling author of The Senator’s Wife and The Good Mother comes The Arsonist, a provocative examination of how life in a quiet New England town begins to unravel after the community becomes the center of an arson investigation. Filled with nuanced character portraits alongside broad philosophical questions, The Arsonist is a finely drawn work of suspense and intrigue.

Fifteen years ago, Frankie Rowley left America to do aid work in East Africa. After years of intense labor and fleeting love affairs, she is uncertain of whether the life she has built in Africa is ultimately a sustainable one. Unable to determine where her “home” really is, she books a one-way ticket to New Hampshire to stay with her parents and sort out her life in the house where her family hasalways summered. On her first night back, a nearby home burns to the ground under suspicious circumstances. Then, another summer house goes up in flames, followed by another, and another; the incidents too frequent and too similar to be accidental. The sleepy town becomes an environment fraught with anxiety and accusations as neighbors turn against neighbors, and long-buried issues of class differences in the town emerge. As all this unfolds, Frankie finds herself becoming romantically involved with Bud Bigelow, a local journalist covering the fires. As the investigation heats up, so does their affair, ultimately leading Frankie to question whether her life in Pomeroy, New Hampshire, could ever be a permanent one. With deftly executed plot turns and richly developed characters, The Arsonist explores questions that the main characters struggle with, while offering a gripping narrative that will have readers on edge until the last page.

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.

Discussion Guides

1. On page 9, Frankie says that she is “undeniably an American after all.” How has Frankie’s time in East Africa affected the way she views her home country? What aspects of American life are most difficult for Frankie to readjust to?

2. Frankie describes the house in Pomeroy as “no more her home than the Connecticut house had been.” (p.12) Why is the concept of “home” fluid for Frankie? What place would you argue is most like home for her?

3. Describe how Frankie and Sylvia’s relationship evolves over the course of the novel. Would you say that Frankie is similar to her mother in any ways? If so, is she cognizant of these traits? By the end of the novel, is their relationship strengthened?

4. The town of Pomeroy is divided between two populations: the summer people and the year-round residents. Describe the interactions between these groups. As the novel progresses, how does the schism between the classes become more pronounced?

5. When Frankie describes her aid work in Africa, she asserts that it seemed like her parents had trouble listening, yet later on, when pressed by Bud to discuss it, she has trouble articulating her role in great detail. Why do you think Frankie is hesitant to discuss her work at length? What assumptions does she face from others about her work?

6. How would you characterize Frankie’s romantic relationships? Does her relationship with Bud fit into the mold of her past encounters? What attracts her to him?

7. As Alfie’s illness progresses, Sylvia finds “the managing of appearances” increasingly difficult.” (p. 29) Discuss the role of gossip in Pomeroy. In what ways is gossip a form of social currency?

8. Why do you think the author chose to provide the backstory of Sylvia and Adrian’s high school romance? How does their shared connection manifest throughout the novel? Is Sylvia embarrassed by it?

9. On page 108, Alfie describes how his brain is changing in a rather bold and straightforward way. As the novel progresses, how does his character change as a result of his illness?

10. Describe how the social landscape of Pomeroy is affected by the fires. How do the fires bring the community together? Ignite debate? How are relationships between neighbors changed?

11. On page 132, Frankie discusses her spiritual inclinations, admitting that the “ideas in Christianity” always appealed to her. What does she mean by that? How has her need for “goodness” affected her throughout her life?

12. Discuss the history of Pomeroy as described by both Pete and Sylvia. How has the town changed over time? In what ways does the economy depend on tourism? Have issues of class difference always been apparent?

13. How does Bud integrate himself into the town of Pomeroy? Do you think he is respected? At what points is he made to feel like an outsider?

14. Characterize Sylvia and Alfie’s relationship. Would you describe their marriage as a happy one? As Sylvia moves from the role of wife to caretaker, what emotions take hold? How does Frankie view her parents’ relationship?

15. The discussion of privilege occurs throughout The Arsonist, on both a personal and global level. How does it manifest throughout the plot? How, specifically, does Frankie struggle with the ideas of privilege? How does her privilege as an American and as a Caucasian prevent her from fully embracing her role as an aid worker?

16. On page 284, Sylvia admits to Frankie that she is afraid of feeling foolish. What do you think Frankie is afraid of?

17. Given Bud’s discovery that Tink’s confession came about under suspicious circumstances, do you think Tinkwas innocent?

18. How does Frankie’s experience on the Amtrak train act as a catalyst for her decision to turn around? Do you think she was ever committed to the idea of going to New York?

Suggested Readings

Julia Glass, And the Dark Sacred Night
Anna Quindlen, Still Life with Bread Crumbs
Anita Shreve, The Weight of Water
J. Courtney Sullivan, Maine
Sue Miller

Sue Miller Events>

Sue Miller - The Arsonist

Photo © Elena Seibert

9/27/2014

,

Confirmed
Map It

Your E-Mail Address
send me a copy

Recipient's E-Mail Address
(multiple addresses may be separated by commas)

A personal message: