John Pipkin‘s fact-based novel Woodsburner was among The Christian Science Monitor‘s twelve Best Book of 2009. Their review raved, “Woodsburner is Pipkin’s first novel, but, with its complex structure and top-notch prose, there’s not a page that reads like the work of a novice.” Pipkin based his debut on a little-known event in the life of one of America’s most iconic figures, Henry David Thoreau. In 1844, a year before he built his cabin on Walden Pond, Thoreau accidentally started a forest fire that destroyed three hundred acres of the Concord woods—an event that altered the landscape of American thought in a single day. The review continues, “For a lover of nature like Thoreau, it’s hard to imagine anything worse than starting a wildfire (aside from accidentally clubbing a baby seal or sitting on the last golden toad in existence). Pipkin doesn’t underplay Thoreau’s horror at what he’s done (or overplay the inherent irony of the author of Walden burning down the woods). Instead, he concentrates on the ability of a natural disaster to act as a catalyst in people’s minds and lives. The result is, well, transcendent.”
Woodsburner received the 2009 First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction. Read more about the award and the other finalists at the Center for Fiction and at Publishers Weekly.