Woodsburner - John Pipkin

John Pipkin’s well constructed and beautifully articulated Woodsburner (Nan A. Talese, $24.95) builds on the historical incident of a distracted Henry Thoreau who accidentally set fire to the woods near Concord, Massachusetts. Pipkin interweaves the lives of several fictional characters representing a changing America in the early 1850s. Oddmund Hus, who works on a nearby farm, has suffered great losses in his young life since immigrating from Norway. He pines for a sweet young Irish-American, Emma Woburn, who, alas, is married to a much older farmer for whom Oddmund works. Eliot Carter, a young bookseller and would-be playwright, happens to be visiting Concord that day from Boston to look for a new store and is enlisted to fight the fire, and a creepy religious zealot, Caleb Dowdy, sees the fire as vindicating his ministry.

In John Pipkin’s remarkable debut novel, Woodsburner (Nan A. Talese, $24.95), the words leap gorgeously from the pages. A fire is accidentally started in the Concord woods on a very dry spring day. The man who started the fire is a deeply depressed Henry Thoreau, who had wanted to cook his fresh-caught fish. Pipkin has created the rest of the memorable characters who were brought together by the fire: a bookseller, Eliot Calvert, who wants to become a playwright;  Caleb Dowdy, a crazed fundamentalist preacher; Oddmund Hus, a Norwegian immigrant, stunted emotionally by another fire in which his parents and the others on the boat perished just before they docked in America; the Czech women Zaleka and Anezkia who had served long prison sentences for engaging in lewd practices; and Emma Manning, whose late father sent her to America to escape the famine. It’s as though the fire burns through to the essence of each person.

Woodsburner: Center for Fiction First Novel Prize Winner By John Pipkin Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307455321
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Anchor - May 4th, 2010