Little Fires Everywhere Book Review: Where’s the Fire?

“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.” ― Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere

Shaker Heights, Ohio, one of America’s first planned communities, is governed by a seemingly utopian order and harmony. The initial description (and the narrator Jennifer Lim’s chirpy voice) reminded me of the first few shots of Wisteria Lane. And just like in the Desperate Housewives, everything is perfect in Shaker Heights until you start scratching at the overly polished surface. 

As usual, changes happen when a new resident comes to the neighbourhood and rents the Richardsons’ place. Mia and her daughter Pearl, the new arrivals, rock the perfectly still boat of the Shaker Heights community, and the ugliness starts floating on the surface like inflated bodies of dead fish.

Celeste Ng’s highly acclaimed novel raises questions of class, race, art, and freedom, while intertwining the parallel plots of an abandoned Chinese baby, cross cultural adoption, surrogate motherhood, moral quandaries regarding the fate of infants, the need for creative expression, and freedom to roam (or run). Despite the importance of the tackled topics, the book has left me slightly annoyed, but mostly indifferent to the whole situation. 

I couldn’t establish connections with any of the characters, not even Mia or Pearl, let alone any of the Richardsons. Little Fires is a vividly written novel with a large cast of characters, but to me there was something artificial, something plastic in the weaving of the plots that has left me with a bland taste in my mouth. 

From where I was standing, I couldn’t really see any fire, so I shrugged my shoulders, muttered a ‘Humph!’ and walked away.  

© 2020 Erna Grcic 

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