“All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control…”
This statement could be applied to all the female characters in Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. The novel starts with a real fire, and goes back to explain how it all came about. How those very real flames were the result of so much passion – and so much pressure to suppress it.
All this is sparked (see the fire pun there?) is the town of Shaker Heights by the arrival of Mia, a single mother and photographer, and her daughter Pearl. Shaker Heights is one of those picture-perfect towns with strong ideas about what is expected of residents. The type of town you think of when you hear that song ‘Little Boxes’, which is the theme to the brilliantly subversive show ‘Weeds’.
Mia and Pearl live quite differently – with minimal possessions. Their life revolves around Mia’s work – working just enough to survive and be able to practice her craft. This gives them a very different perspective to their neighbours – much to the chagrin of the Richardson family who they rent from.
And yet despite their differences, they lives of these two families become inexplicably entwined with each other’s. Pearl befriends the children – and has quite different relationships with each. These shape and change her character in ways that Mia is not quite ready for. So, when Mrs Richardson offers her a cleaning job, Mia takes it to enter into this part of her daughter’s world – only to find her own connections, especially with the two Richardson girls.
Behind all these lies the secret to Pearl’s conception, a secret which Mrs Richardson take upon herself to unravel. And she’s a journalist. While she works only for the local paper, she has some knowledge of how to uncover what is hidden. And she is very motivated to know more about these people who have somehow ingratiated themselves into her world. It is this undertaking that in some ways, sets the rest of the novel in motion.
There’s also quite an interesting sub-plot about an abandoned baby that is thought-provoking too.
I listened to this on audio and really quite enjoyed it. It’s like kind of young adult fiction that sits right on the cusp of more adult-level concepts. I’ve heard a lot of good reports about Celeste Ng, and I will no doubt read more.