Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste NG

One benefit of all of this time at home is the opportunity to tackle my to read pile in earnest. Working at a library, I rarely buy books, but there are those occasions when I do, and Covid 19 has been an opportunity to create a little stock pile. The thing is…books I own do not have a due date, so as good as they look and as great as the reviews, I end up reading what is due at the library or what is really popular with a long hold list so I can get that novel or memoir back into circulation.

I found Little Fires Everywhere on my daughter’s shelf, purchased for a week at Pine Point, and decided to give it a try. It was a Reese Witherspoon Hello Sunshine Book Club pick and lately is splashed all over Netflix ads because it has become a short series. A companion show always gets me (even if I believe the book is usually better!)

Little Fires Everywhere introduces us to three families: The Richardsons, The McCulloughs and The Warrens. These families live in the priviledged town of Shaker Heights. The Richardsons are lead by local journalist mom, lawyer dad, and have four children, all in high school. The McCulloughs are friends of the Richardsons, unable to conceive their own child and trying to adopt. Mia Warren is a nomadic artist who moves from town to town every few months, taking odd jobs in restaurants, offices, or cleaning to make ends meet while working on and occasionally selling her photographs. Her daughter Pearl is a high school student. Tired of all the change and desperate to live in one place for a little while, Pearl and Mia rent an apartment from the Richardsons, and quickly become enmeshed in their lives.

The novel opens and closes with the Richardson’s house burning to the ground, and their youngest daughter the prime suspect in the arson. In between, Ng examines the price of priviledge, artistic expression, and birthright, through family dynamics and the society each character participates in building. I think the message that there is always more to the story, and people are multi dimensional and need to be known in their different roles to be understood overlays everything that happens, moving the reader to become a more empathetic observer.

I look forward to watching the Netflix series now, and asking the age old question, which do you prefer: movie or book?