Sue Miller, bestselling author of “The Good Mother” and “The Senator’s Wife” has always had her finger on the pulse of the issues defining present-day society. “The Arsonist,” her latest novel, explores the meaning of family, community, and personal fulfillment.
After working in East Africa for more than a decade, Frankie Rowley has returned to the small New Hampshire town that her parents have retired to chart a new course for herself. She knows the town – her family has always summered there – and it is a town defined by summer/full-time resident dichotomies.
On her first night home, an arsonist sets fire to a vacant summer home. It is the first of a series of increasingly bold fires that flame distrust and suspicion in the once idyllic village:
It looked like the setting for a mad party, every window brilliantly lighted. The flames jumping into the dark sky were yellow and full and happy. Sparks exploded high upward, lighting the air like small-town fireworks, then drifted away, dying, blinking out like fireflies into the black night.
When a romance inevitably sparks between Frankie and Bud, the editor and publisher of the local newspaper, she must reconcile her fears and uncertainties and hopes and desires to find her way to a rewarding life. As her mother Sylvia points out:
It seems to me that you chose work that asked so much of you that you . . .just didn’t have time for all this other, messy stuff. All these demands that seem so unreasonable sometimes. Or just boring. Or I don’t know. Trivial. Your life made all this relationship stuff seem. . .dispensable. And maybe it is. Maybe people can live perfectly happily that way.
. . .you have . . .too many choices. . . .It’s all so open, there are so many options for you, that you don’t make use of what’s right in front of your nose.
During the course of that fire-filled summer, Frankie comes to understand that the time has, in fact, come for her to make choices.
As always, Miller’s characters are finely drawn. Frankie and Bud are fully realized – as are the villagers – from the chief of police to the leading suspect. Particularly poignant is Miller’s portrait of Frankie’s father Alfie, a retired academic who is beginning to “disappear” as a result of Alzheimer’s or a similar disease. For fans of Miller, “The Arsonist” promises to be a blazing good read.
"The Arsonist" is available on amazon.com and at your favorite New York bookstores.