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Little Fires Everywhere

Review

Little Fires Everywhere

Celeste Ng is a master of literary fiction. She commands pacing, plot and character with a deep understanding of the complexities of love and family. If you’ve read her first novel, the highly acclaimed EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU, you’ll know what I mean --- and though you don’t need to have read it by any means to appreciate LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE, I recommend both. Her skill is palpable, and her expertise and sensitivity make for intricately compelling, mesmeric novels that linger with the reader. Her latest is set in the ’90s, but both its characters and the issues at its heart are evoked with urgency and consciousness that make it fiercely relevant.

There are places in America that have the privilege to pride themselves on order. There are people in parts of this country who believe in a step-by-step series of sequential success, that one action will bring the next into view, and one must only perform the expected action to continue progressing. This system only functions, for the most part, for a select few who were chosen generations ago, whose paths intertwined with chance. But that belief is so palatable, so embedded, that those within it imagine that they have within their sights the whole of society, that it sprawls out before them as clear and lovely as a map. They don’t recognize --- and more often than not, they never will --- that they are staring at a prepackaged segment of the world, which only belongs to a few, and that it’s been handed to them on a silver platter that they now hold upon their laps. In this way, they don’t recognize that they’ve been navel-gazing their entire lives.

"Each and every one of these characters speak their truths to the reader. Ng writes with sentences that run clean but deep, rich with detail but not a word out of place.... She is an expert at omniscient narration, weaving timeline and backstories with propulsive forward motion, deepening our investment in the story."

This is a truth that Ng firmly understands, and elucidates so beautifully and seamlessly within her engrossing plot and vividly real characters. LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE takes place within Shaker Heights, Cleveland, an upper-middle class suburb that prides itself on progressivism as much as it does on order. It’s not that the two worlds exist in opposition in Shaker Heights --- there is only one world, one United States of America, one Shaker, but it is predicated on a system of imbalance that Ng explores so elegantly. EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU is celebrated for its keen observations of family dynamics, identity and becoming. Here she doesn’t falter, critically exploring characters of differing races, classes, genders, ages and experiences with clarity and sensitivity. Her skill carries beautifully into this exquisite sophomore novel, which stands alone with its own innovative narrative.

The Richardsons have been in Shaker Heights likely since the town’s founding. Elena Richardson had always believed in playing by the rules, and she has: college, husband, house, career, four children within a year of each other. She rents out her inheritance, a second home a mile away, to less fortunate folks she deems worthy and believes need a break. In this way, she reminds herself of her own goodwill while padding the family’s vacation fund. Her husband is a lawyer, and the eldest three of their children are picture-perfect: Trip, the handsome athlete; Lexie, the popular girl with the Ivy League-bound black boyfriend; and Moody, the artsy young teen. Izzy, the youngest, is the problem child, the rebel --- but Ng carefully evokes how this dynamic develops.

Their well-patterned lifestyle is disrupted by the new tenants at their second home. Mia is a single mother and an itinerant artist, working odd part-time jobs to support her work, and her teenage daughter Pearl has never known a different life. Their lives intersect with the Richardsons in ways that neither of their families could have imagined.

A few manicured lawns down the way, Elena’s longtime best friend experiences the greatest joy she’s had in 10 years. After a decade of pain and disappointment, Linda McCullough and her husband have been granted what they take to be a miracle: a Chinese baby girl has been abandoned, and they are approved to fulfill the adoption process. The child’s mother, however, would do anything for a second chance and to have her daughter back. Mia, Pearl and the Richardsons take sides, and the plight of the child affects all of them. Ng interrogates race, privilege and motherhood in such a vivid and authentic setting, crafting a deeply gripping narrative.

Each and every one of these characters speak their truths to the reader. Ng writes with sentences that run clean but deep, rich with detail but not a word out of place. She understands drive, family and the multitudes of womanhood. She is an expert at omniscient narration, weaving timeline and backstories with propulsive forward motion, deepening our investment in the story.

This book is, rightfully, one of the most recommended of the season. Don’t miss out on Celeste Ng and LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on September 12, 2017

Little Fires Everywhere
by Celeste Ng

  • Publication Date: September 12, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press
  • ISBN-10: 0735224293
  • ISBN-13: 9780735224292