Little Fires Everywhere welcomes the reader into the Richardson household, nestled in the heart of the idyllic village of Cleveland's Shaker Heights. Celeste Ng's latest novel treats the reader to a fly-on-the-wall reading experience. However, the fly certainly has a point of view. And every view has its opposite.
The fulcrum of Little Fires Everywhere is baby May Ling or Mirabelle. Same child but conflicting name, depending on your identity, class, emotional connection, legal background or therapeutic training. Immediately pressured to answer, Chow or McCullough? at the beginning of our discussions; whoa, the heat of discomfort was remarkably uncomfortable. Who deserves the child? The family with everything or the birth mother with materially zilch. Ng forces our hand.
Reaction of fellow readers was strong and conflicted. Perhaps my direct approached triggered this. I thank Ng for this opportunity to delve deeply. Our discussions challenged the definition of mothering. What happens when child and mother just don't connect? How do you judge the parenthood fitness? How important are roots? What is the benefit of a nomadic life? How open is open-mindedness? Does art speak truth? If you play by the rules, shouldn't you succeed? Is the price of conformity worth forever wondering "what if?" That's just for starters.
To engage in these quandaries, Ng offers us a rich cast of characters: I stopped counting at 34. From Mia, Pearl, Izzy, Trip, Moody, Elena, Regina, "Cliff and Clair" all the way to Bibi Chow, the Ryan, Wrights, Mrs. Peters and Mr. Yang, all are presented in beautiful vignettes, Ng gives us just enough background to understand how each fits into the web of plot. Ninety-nine percent of her characters are well-defined. Only the men dim lackluster. Frankly, I tip my hat to the the Shaker Heights principal; minor role. Major sympathy.
With this cast, set in the very familiar Baby Boomer days of Monica Lewinsky and Jerry Springer, Ng's carefully constructed Shaker dramatique nudges the reader to take a look at themselves.
"What are you going to do about it?" asked early in the novel, sparks a cascade of delicate little fires everywhere, powerfully exposing life's universal embers and irrevocably torching other characters' lives.
The catalyst's of this interesting problem-solving philosophy belongs to the socially untethered Mia, “Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.”
Do you agree?
Let me know,