Little Fires Everywhere: A Novel by Celeste Ng (Penguin Press, $17.00, 368 pages)
I and I, in creation where one’s nature neither honors nor forgives. Bob Dylan
When a person reads an author for the first time, rarely will one know what to expect. Sometimes the reader is more or less satisfied than what was expected or anticipated. In the case of bestselling author Celeste Ng’s second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, this reader was extremely excited to discover what an excellent book it is. Fires features something for just about everyone: young people finding their way; good people who become victims of circumstance; entitlement; the search for identity; the human judging that accompanies an attempt to make sense of those who can’t or won’t conform to convention; and revenge.
In Shaker Heights, Ohio, Elena Richardson likes things tidy. She desires perfection, keeps up appearances, runs in the right social circles, is a gossip, and assuages her conscience by renting out a property for less than market value. Concurrently, Richardson looks down upon those she’s attempting to help. Enter Mia Warren, an artist, nomad, and mother of Pearl – a high schooler who finally seems to be hitting her stride.
Lexie, Richardson’s daughter, befriends Pearl but as they attempt to interact with the opposite sex and apply to colleges, past and present intersect in ways that exempt no one from the powerful hand of Fate. What makes the story great is how Ng expertly and brilliantly brings the individual stories together. The total is greater than the sum of its parts as unique subplots play off against each other to form a coherent and shocking climax.
Little Fires Everywhere is a perfectly paced novel and the ending – satisfying as it is, is as mystifying as the journey to get there.
A review copy was received from the publisher.
Dave Moyer is the superintendent of a public school district north of Chicago. He is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel. In his spare time, he listens to the music of Bob Dylan and attends Dylan’s live performances.