Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere

Celeste Ng’s second novel offers rich portrayals of motherhood in the suburbs

Little Fires Everywhere

Maybe your interest is piqued because it's been picked up for miniseries adaptation by Reese Witherspoon. Fair enough. The Legally Blonde star's known to be a voracious reader, with her own book club and a keen producorial eye that helped make the Wild, Gone Girl, and Big Little Lies screen adaptations happen. Maybe the cover caught your eye or you like the way the title rolls off your tongue. Whatever the reason, you're here and you're going to cry about moms.

Of course, there's no monolithic version of motherhood. But it's rare to see as many richly textured versions of it in one place as can be found in Celeste Ng's second novel, Little Fires Everywhere. It's the Nineties. Visual artist Mia Warren and her teen daughter, Pearl, roll into the meticulously ordered Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights and are soon renting a house from affluent Richardson family matriarch, Elena. There's keen interest from each family's children about the other's lifestyle: Pearl sees a stability and ease of living that she hasn't had on the road with her single mom, and the youngest Richardson child, Izzy, sees the independence and artistic sensibility she longs for. Ng doesn't give us anything as simple as a princess-and-the-pauper switch, though. Rather, her book is about a longing for connection and understanding and the painful necessity to put aside our pretty lies about ourselves – that we don't need to talk about race, that we're not motivated by fear or spite, that we know what we're doing all the time.

Little Fires Everywhere

by Celeste Ng
Penguin Press, 352 pp., $27
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