Novel number 14 of 2018! Not too bad, all things considered. It does help that I’m now back reading a book a week for my Masters. This one has been on my reading list for a while, though, so I’m grateful for the kick up the arse from my course.
Little Fires Everywhere is a cracking novel from Celeste Ng. If you’re a writer, watch out for her absolutely perfect grasp on free indirect discourse, it’s flawless. I’m incredibly impressed by how well she has managed to pull off the narrative style given how much is going on in the plot of this one. I’ll attempt to give you a synopsis, but it’s pretty tricky.
Okay, the book focuses on… maybe a dozen characters? Mainly, the plot is trained on two families: the Richardsons and the Wright/Warrens. Yeah, I said it was a tricky one. Mia and Pearl Warren (/Wright) are a mother-daughter duo who move into Shaker Heights. Shaker Heights is an idyllic town in the US which is pristinely maintained, read: there’s a tonne of rules and a tonne of rich, white folk. Pearl is Mia’s daughter who doesn’t know her father. Mia is an artist, a photographer who is on the cusp of fame. The duo are extremely poor and they travel a lot – every time Mia finishes a series of photographs, they move onto a new place. This time, Mia promises, they will stay for good, (you find out in the first few pages that this is not the case).
The Richardsons, were pretty much all born and raised in Shaker Heights. They are a very wealthy, very privileged family of six. Trip, Lexie, Moody, Izzy, Mr and Mrs Richardson. Mrs Richardson rents their second property (I know) out to Mia and Pearl when they move into Shaker Heights. Moody ends up befriending Pearl first, then the two families become interwoven.
Okay, so that is the most basic synopsis I can muster. However, the book also includes: surrogacy, abortion, arson, teenage sexual identities, blackmail, kidnapping, starvation, class issues, racial issues, a court case, amateur (ish) sleuthing, flashbacks, flash-forwards … it’s chaos! It’s.. little fires everywhere.
The issue with Little Fires Everywhere is that even though the technique is astonishing, the characters remain at arms length. For me, there’s just too much going on for me to connect with any of the characters at all. I’m vastly in awe of Celeste Ng, but I think she missed the mark on the emotional connections. I still have no clue whose story I read, and I think that is an issue. For me, the book would read much better if one plotline was chosen and the narration stayed the same or, keep the crazy chaos of stories and focus on one person’s narration. I think the multiple character narrations and the multiple interwoven plotlines were just too much for a great reading experience. But, I did have a good reading experience.
I’ve already recommended Little Fires Everywhere to two different people, so it’s clear that I liked it. I’m not sure what the point, Ng was trying to make was, but does there always need to be a point in fiction? For me, the characters were too cliche, too generic, and I was expecting them to be allegorical because of that basic lack of emotional variety. But, at the end of the novel I couldn’t really find a meaning to any allegorical substance which I assigned them. So, I was a little confused. We’ve all read it before: rich boy meets poor girl, falls in love, poor girl sees him as a friend and fucks his older brother instead. Or: rich girl meets poor woman, wants poor woman to be her mentor because rich girl is so misunderstood by her rich family. Y’know? It’s a beautiful piece of fiction, but I wanted more.
I think perhaps I’m expecting too much of my fiction these days. I read so much that I’m always unfairly disappointed when a story is just a story. But, ignore my writerly whining! Little Fires Everywhere is a beautiful read which, hopefully, will suck you into its literary folds and keep you entertained until the end.