Sunday, March 12, 2023


Title: Little Fires Everywhere

Author: Celeste Ng

Publisher: Penguin Books

Pages: 368

My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Elena and Bill Richardson are a rich couple who live in Shaker Heights, a small town built on the ideals of perfection, with their four children, Lexie, Trip, Moody and Izzy. When artist and single mom, Mia, and her 15-year-old daughter Pearl move into the rental owned by Elena, they are free spirits that don’t fit into the rule-abiding perfection of Elena’s life.

Soon Moody, curious about the tenants, befriends Pearl. Before long, she becomes a close friend of Lexie and Trip too, invited to their parties, at home in their surroundings.

When Elena’s best friend adopts a Chinese-American baby, the action sets Elena in direct opposition to Mia, whose coworker is the baby’s biological mother. Elena is convinced that the way to help her friend keep the baby is to ferret out the secrets in Mia’s past. She has no idea that it will upturn her own life.

The title, Little Fires Everywhere is literal. As the book begins, we find ourselves outside the Richardson home, watching the large house burn, because of little fires that someone has lit in all the rooms. But it is also figurative, referring to the manner in which the perfection of Elena’s home and life is going to come undone.

The two worlds of Elena and Mia are about to collide – we get a sense of that. Each little action has a consequence. Events prove inexorable with the characters helpless in their face.

Children are the theme here, forming the basis for many parallels between the two families and others in the neighbourhood. There are couples with many children versus those with none. The very fertile versus those that can’t have any. Those whose hearts and homes are hospitable but wombs are not. Those that have taken in another’s baby, and those that have had their baby taken away from them.

The bulk of the action in the book takes place during Clinton’s presidency and the news around Monica Lewinsky. The events at the national level, however, have little or no bearing on the events taking place in Shaker Heights.

The author writes with a sense of compassion, without taking sides or judging anyone and we find ourselves following her lead.

The women in this book were stronger. The men, in contrast, were flat. Of all the characters, my heart went out to Izzy and Moody, the two kids most taken for granted, the two kids that had it worst. The book ends without giving us much of a closure, but it was these two, the youngest of the Richardson kids, that I missed the most.

Elena was a complicated character. For all her enjoyment of children, she isn’t a kind mother.

The prose was beautiful. Here’s a sample:

Parents… learned to survive touching their children less and less.

To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once.

The only issue was that the PoV was confusing. Omniscient at times, at others it would change from one character to another, often in the same paragraph. While in a particular character’s third person PoV, the narration tells us things it would be impossible for that character to know.

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