Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned - from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principal is playing by the rules.Enter Mia Warren - an enigmatic artist and single mother- who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons.Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
This novel begins perfectly; literally, with little fires everywhere. We begin at the end, and are transported back to learn how we got there through the smallest of character reasonings, and the largest of past mistakes.
Ng presents us with more of a character study than a novel. Shaker Heights is a town of order, of meticulous planning, of perfection. From the colours of the houses to the bin collections, everything follows its rules to ensure Shaker is the best version of itself it can be. The wealthy Richardson family embody everything the town aspires to, following their own strict rules set down by their proud matriarch; how they are seen to be is everything.
Juxtaposed to the Richarsons are Mia and Pearl, a nomadic mother and daughter team who arrive in Shaker and rent a home from this perfect family. Soon, the contrast in their family lives and behaviours becomes apparent, and Ng provides subtle yet impacting commentary on all of their choices.
The beautiful thing about this story is the overall feeling of reality. There’s a lack of the plot being driven in the most wonderful way; instead, Ng allows her characters’ backstories to frame the direction of the present. Each character is intricately delved into; in the town of Shaker, which no doubt has several secrets, Ng reveals all. She makes it clear that none of us just are; we have been made by the experiences of our lives, by other people, and by our emotions, decisions, and reactions
A slow going, yet addictive read, much more emotional than driven. Ng’s skill here has meant I miss the characters; I crave more understanding, I want to know what happens next. But the beauty of her real narrative says it all – people move in and out of our lives, and we can’t hold on to them. Plus, we all have little fires to extinguish elsewhere.