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This was not up to this author's previous works.

The Arsonist: A novel - Sue Miller

I hate to be a curmudgeon, but boy, was this book a disappointment. The characters were shallow and some seemed totally pointless. The plot was disjointed with themes that had nothing to do with the arson investigation I thought that the book was supposed to be about. I muddled through because the reader on the audio was excellent; had it been a print book, I would have closed it after the first couple of chapters. There was unnecessary foul language and the crude descriptions of sex scenes seemed to be completely irrelevant to the storyline. The author even tried to incorporate politics with some idle mention of Clinton, Monica Lewinsky and an attack on the embassy in Nairobi; neither of the themes were developed, and they had no real bearing on anything. In the end I wondered, who was her audience, or rather what kind of an audience was she now trying to attract? Surely it wasn’t the same one that read her previous books. My kind of reader doesn’t need to know if the character “stopped to take a piss” or has a “hard-on”. Why was the smutty language even necessary?
Basically, the story is about a family, Sylvia, the mother; Alfie, the father; and Frankie, the daughter. Frankie, 43, has lived in Kenya for the last 15 years employed as an aide worker. She is unmarried and fairly wanton in her ways. Most of the book describes the fact that she relished her life and freedom in Africa, was very dedicated to helping the people there, and she slept around with several available men. Her mother and father had recently retired and moved to her mother’s childhood vacation home in a very quiet town in New Hampshire. When Frankie decided to take a sabbatical, to figure out what she wanted to do with the rest of her life, she returned there, and within hours of her arrival, an arsonist hit the scene. During the ensuing weeks, she met Bud, the editor of the local newspaper and had an affair with him. At the same time, she discovered that her father was having a problem with his memory, was having hallucinations, and was sometimes disoriented and confused. Her mother was not sure she could handle her future as his caregiver. There were few resources to help her in their small community.
I kept asking myself, what is this story about? Where is it going? For me, it went pretty much nowhere. I didn’t like Frankie, and she was the main character. Although she participated in an entirely altruistic profession, she was flippant in her own life, almost unable to make any real, lasting attachments. Furthermore, she never seemed to grow out of the habit of treating people dismissively. In summary, the book is about several unsatisfying love affairs, an inconclusive arson investigation, and a thin exploration of diseases affecting the mind and memory. Mostly, it seemed to be about Frankie’s confusion about her own needs, which I don’t believe were ever fully realized.