Friday, August 7, 2020

Celest Ng - Little Fires Everywhere

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 colors 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.
When old family friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town - and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at an unexpected and devastating cost...

Comment: With the Summer season on, my time has been a little more compartmentalized which means I haven't read as quickly as I tend to.

This is the first book I've read in August and I got interested in it by word of readers. Some of my GR friends have read it and enjoyed it and the blurb caught my attention, so I decided to give it a try. This month, I finally started it.

In this book we meet mother Mia and daughter Pearl, a family of modern nomads, who spend their lives traveling on the waves of Mia's creativity, possibilities and photographic work.
They have been in many places and this time they rent a little house in Shaker Heights, a very traditional community where everyone seems to follow the rules, whether they are advertised or implicit.
Mia and Pearl plan on staying for a while, and they quickly form some sort of relationship with the rich Richardson family whose house they rent. Pearl becomes friends with all the Richardson children and at some point Mia even becomes their housekeeper.
However, all these people being so different and with so many secondary issues to deal with, can Mia and Pearl really be part of this community? Or will they need to leave once again?

This is a book that has been praised by many readers, has been nominated for and won some literary prizes.
I admit I wasn't too interested on it at first but I was convinced by a friend to try it. I decided to start this month with it and my final opinion is positive but at the same time, I imagined that, by thew immense hype surrounding it, that it wouldn't have such a vague taste to it, in the sense that there is a lot of the content that doesn't feel mattered that much and the end was a little too open for my taste.

This seems to be a very simple and easy story on the opposite family and financial situations of two families: the rich and (apparently) follower of rules Richardson and Mia and Pearl, who have a simpler and more free style of living each day.
It does seem, when the story begins, that this will be about the clash of styles, of values and of expectations one gets when life has been a certain way and when people are so closely exposed to something different. This would work both sides, especially for the teenagers who would see the "other side".
I must say I was surprised that although this theme is obviously addressed, it's not the focal point in such a direct way. Instead, the author has worked on status and on appearances by going a different route, namely on how much importance was given to Mia and her past and her attitude in relation to others.

The story isn't only about Mia, though. There are several secondary things, including her daughter's personality (Pearl acts as a grown up on many things but in others she acts her age) and the behavior of the Richardson children that influence the reader's perspective on what this is all about.
I kept thinking, on the fact there are many little details everywhere, that some things were dealt with in a way that doesn't leave room for imagination, while others seemd more or less serious but still felt vague. Was this on purpose, was the author lacking ideas on how to make everything really matter?
I can't say I reached a conclusion because it feels, to me, the story doesn't have real closure.

There is a secondary plot going on, regarding the adoption of a Chinese baby by a Caucasian couple, that seems to act as an unifying element to explain some other secrets we slowly discover about Mia, for instance. I think this was well done, it offered interesting food for thought.
But the other sub plots or situations that seemed to lead nowhere... were they there to cause which kind of impact? Where they there for shock value? To show us a side of the characters that isn't what others thought of them?
I mean, this is a great idea but the execution wasn't one I'd say is the best way to do it.

The end suits the tone and the "message of the story, yes. But it doesn't offer real closure, especially on some of the situations that felt so important at times but that went nowhere, like I said.
I think there are many literary elements to make this special and aloof but the specific details were told in a way that feels wrong to not have more definition on them.
This said, I did like reading this book, I liked the more introspective and philosophical-like passages and some characterization was quite pertinent.
It was a good story but not as great as some might have seemed to make it sound.
Grade: 8/10

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