Book Review: Woodsburner

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Back in December, Christopher Lancette wrote a profile for us of author John Pipkin, who had just won the Center for Fiction's First Novel prize for Woodsburner. The novel is based on a true historical event, when Henry David Thoreau--known to us all as the nature-loving, proto-environmentalist--accidentally set a huge forest fire outside of Concord, Massachusetts.

The minute I read that profile, Woodsburner went on my wish list. A few weeks later, that wish came true, and yet the book sat on my bedside table until I could find the time to read it. It's a lovely novel. Supporting Thoreau is a full, intriguing ensemble cast of nineteenth-century characters, including, as Chris pointed out in his article, a Boston bookseller who dabbles in pornography and an illiterate book collector, who tucks away some of the great first editions of the time period on her single bookshelf.

Kirkus Reviews called the novel "Pulitzer Prize material" (though this year's Pulitzer for fiction went to Paul Harding's Tinkers, also now on my wish list). Indeed, this is the kind of novel that seems rare these days. I don't often post book reviews here, but if you enjoy historical fiction or literary fiction, take a chance on this one.