Ng’s second novel spans a large period of time and people while remaining intimate.
Photo courtesy of Penguin Group
Award-winning novel by Celeste Ng dives into relationships and domesticity
Little Fires Everywhere tells the story of Mia Warren, a single mother and vagrant artist who never stays in one place longer than a few months. Her teenage daughter, Pearl, is used to a nomadic lifestyle and has become an expert at detachment, from things, places, and even people.
When the pair arrive late one night to the suburban, pre-planned paradise of Shaker Heights, Ohio, they begin renting from the well-to-do Elena Richardson, local reporter and matriarch to one of the foremost families of Shaker. Over the next 11 months, the Warrens and the Richardsons will intertwine in the most unexpected ways, forming a fragile bond that may or may not rip everyone in Shaker Heights apart in the blink of an eye.
Celest Ng’s 2017 novel Little Fires Everywhere, which is coming to Hulu as a TV series, starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington on March 18, is no small feat of writing. As Ng’s second novel, it became a Top 10 New York Times Bestseller, as well as winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fiction Novel of 2017—and rightfully so. Rather, it’s slow-burn drama with a monumental scope that isn’t concerned with elaborately staged plot twists or backstabbing but simply illustrating the complexities of relationships between neighbors and family members.
Ng’s storytelling spans decades, states, and lives, but miraculously always remains intimate. Reminiscent of Sinclair Lewis, Ng sweeps through town and drops into not only the mind of her characters, but their lineage as well. Disdain for her mother turns into teenage activism, turns into mild-mannered progressivism as an adult inside of Elena.
Through a long, winding road, Mia’s bond with her brother eventually becomes the driving force behind her raising her daughter in a most unconventional way. Without ever trying to, the residents of Shaker Heights continually shape their future with the slightest decisions: “At that moment, Moody had a sudden clear understanding of what had already happened that morning: his life had been divided into a before and after, and he would always be comparing the two.”
Set between 1997 and 1998, the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal provides an unexpected backdrop to the events of Little Fires Everywhere, but more than anything sexual, Ng focuses the plot largely around racial and class relations.
The Richardson family is affluent and white; the Warren family is black and frugal both by choice and by circumstance. A custody battle between a white family and an Asian single mother, the focus of the middle third of the novel, begs the question of whether or not it is possible for a child to be aware of their heritage if they aren’t raised by their biological parents—and if that even remains their heritage at all.
Comparable to the bestseller Big Little Lies, which is also a series starring Reese Witherspoon, Little Fires Everywhere dives headfirst into domesticity and the illusion of perfection (both as a concept and the pursuit of). Ng’s deft writing manages to defy the label of “mom drama” while still delivering an entirely female-led, mother-centric powerhouse of a story that turns out to be inescapable once the first page is turned.