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Books

‘The Burn Palace’ by Stephen Dobyns

Wouldn’t you know? Rhode Island, the smallest state in New England, has turned out to be the setting for the broadest, boldest New England novel in a long while. Broadest and boldest, because, though Stephen Dobyns’s new work of fiction may move primarily as a thriller it punches and thrusts and bangs its shoulders hard against the confines of the genre in ways as entertaining as any new work of fiction you’ll read this winter.

Located on Dobyns’s fictive map of the actual state, Brewster, R.I., the setting for the novel, is a stereotypic New England village just southwest of Providence on the edge of the Great Swamp state preserve. The book’s stylistic action — it comes to us in an all-knowing, constantly driving, third-person narration — takes place somewhere to the west of Dickens and in the vicinity of horror masters such as Poe and Stephen King.

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