Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng starts with the pivotal moment of Izzy Richardson, the youngest of four siblings, burning down her family’s house by setting “a small crackling fire … directly in the middle of each bed” like “a demented Girl Scout.” Why did she do it? Readers will spend the rest of the novel finding the relatively satisfying answer this question.
Fans of Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You, will recognize the familiar plot device of opening with the tragic climax and then slowly unspooling the mystery of what happened in the months leading up to it. This time the canvas is larger though. In Little Fires Everywhere we deal with not a single family but an entire town—impeccable and immaculate Shaker Heights, Ohio in the late nineties, to be exact.
Although many subplots are explored—race, class, the private lives of teenagers—Ng shines brightest when describing the love of a mother in its multiple forms. “To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once.”
For all of its strengths (fluent prose, engrossing plot, specific and real characters), the novel is missing something. It’s a little too neat, as if Ng filmed her story in black and white instead of eerie shades of gray. I wanted to empathize more with both points of view, struggle to take a side. All in all, Little Fires Everywhere is a perfectly pleasant read and a more ambitious book than its predecessor.
Best paired with mimosas, poached eggs in puddles of velvety hollandaise and a three-tiered pink-and-white cake, draped in fondant and topped with a sugar figurine of a baby holding the number 1 in its chubby hands.