The first time I have ever heard of Little Fires Everywhere was through Hulu+ sponsored post on my Facebook, showing a trailer for their new TV show starring Reese Whiterspoon and Kerry Washington. Given how much I loved Whiterspoon’s other project Big Little Lies, this intrigued me. Still, before watching TV show, I decided to read a book first. Although it was advertised as an almost soap opera, after reading the book, I can say that there is a lot more depth and layers in the story. The story was easy to follow, mostly because of Ng’s writing style which was very smooth and unpretencious. This style helped build the narrative and immerse the reader in it. Overall, I must say that I enjoyed Little Fires Everywhere more than I thought I would.
Setting of the novel is Shaker Heights, affluent progressive suburbs of Cleveland, in which rules and order are the driving forces. Elena Richardson is the embodiment of the neighborhood she lives in, as her and life of her family is governed entirely by the rules and schedules. The plot of the novel basically begins when Mia Warren and her daughter move in to the house Mrs. Richardson rents and their diametrically different lives become intertwined. Although this plot and the setting are not really ground breaking, I think that in Little Fires Everywhere, Ng introduced some very important and relevant topics. By placing Mia and Elena on opposite sides and introducing other characters, she was able to introduce different life philosophies and ways of life. In this way, she also exposed the faults that end up causing tragedies.
Ng also tackled themes such as class difference, racial issues, parenthood, teenage pregnancy and loss, just to the name the most prominent. She did not shy away from openly discussing the question of whether a white American, affluent family can be a good fit for a small Asian girl. This additional plot line of custody battle over a small girl is something I did not expect, but I welcomed it and truly enjoyed it. I appreciated the sincerity it was written with and the fact that this complex issue was presented from different angles so well that I would change my opinion frequently, as the characters presentened their opinions on the matter. Speaking of racial issues, a boyfriend of one of the Elena Richardson’s daughters is black. Considering that they are openly discussing this throughout the novel, I am sure that this was a deliberate decision by the author.
Another very significant discussion was that of parenthood. Elena and Mia mother their children in a rather different way as they are very different people. Ng writes about them with almost a distance, allowing her readers to decide for themselves to make their own opinion about this aspect. That being said, her approach is not clinical or cold, as it seems that Ng truly understands the characters she created and what lies behind their actions. One aspect that I did not fully understand is Elena’s relationship with Izzy, who she was constantly picking on. Although Izzy was not exactly the picture perfect child (if you had read the book, you know what I mean) I cannot help but wonder how much of her attitude was caused by her mother’s constant criticism. Still, I think that Izzy turning to Mia for guidance and attention she was not receiving from her own mother was rather insightful and opens up an interesting discussion about what being a mother truly means. The way the novel ended and Izzy’s decision showed that the answer to this question is not as simple as it initially might seem.
I think that my favorite part of the novel were the characters. Usually in the novels that follow multiple characters, there is that one that I cannot read about and mostly skim through. However, this really was not the case with this novel. As I mentioned, it seems like Ng really understands the characters she created, which allowed her to make them quite realistic and complex. In fact, all of them felt like people you could meet at the places she placed them in. Mia and Elena got the most attention, which made sense considering that they are carrying the story. I truly loved the way they are presentened, as their actions are not judged or praised, but are rather given the context and the reason. Although I disagreed with the ways both of them handled situations in their lives, they felt logical for their characters. However, they were not predictable, which was a very tricky balance to achieve, but I think Ng did.
Other characters in the novel may not be as detailed as Mia and Elena, but I still felt like they were fleshed out rather well. I particularly liked the fact that the teenage characters are also given a lot of depth and rich inner life. This felt quite refreshing to me and I really appreciated learning more about them. In addition, I really liked in the custody battle, Ng took time to give a background information on both sides. By doing so, she made both Bebe and McCulloughs human and further complicated the issue. Although in a very bitter custody battle, they have a lot in common, especially in terms of tragic history and suffering. It would have been easy to present Bebe as simply an irresponsible mother and McCulloughs as selfish, but I think that adding this extra layer to their characters really improves the story tremendously.
There was only a couple of aspects of the novel that I did not like. Towards the end, a lot of action only happens because of the confusion between the characters. On one hand, this did seem logical as the characters do not really talk to each other, but to be honest, the writing towards the end felt a bit lazy for me. The action in the last couple of chapters felt a bit rushed, which felt a bit off putting as the pacing before that was quite well done. I liked the open ending of the novel. Considering that throughout the novel, Ng did not pander to the readers and told them what to think,it seemed rather logical. Once more, Ng allowed her readers to decide for themselves and infer their own meaning. What did you think about the ending? Do you agree with me that the pacing at the end felt a bit rushed?
Overall, I can recommend this novel to just about anyone. It is a layered and complex story about flawed but real individuals who are all trying to do what they believe is the right thing. The writing style is very smooth and easy to read and the story is compelling and engaging. The characters are some of the best developed and realistic characters I have read in quite some time and it was really enjoyable to follow them. I have not yet watched the TV show, but judging by the trailer and the star cast, it will be no less interesting than the book. That is definitely my next step. Did you read Little Fires Everywhere? What were your thoughts on it? Is there anything important that I missed? Let me know!