...[a] delectable and engrossing novel ... a complex and compulsively readable suburban saga that is deeply invested in mothers and daughters ... What Ng has written, in this thoroughly entertaining novel, is a pointed and persuasive social critique, teasing out the myriad forms of privilege and predation that stand between so many people and their achievement of the American dream. But there is a heartening optimism, too. This is a book that believes in the transformative powers of art and genuine kindness — and in the promise of new growth, even after devastation, even after everything has turned to ash.
It’s this vast and complex network of moral affiliations — and the nuanced omniscient voice that Ng employs to navigate it — that make this novel even more ambitious and accomplished than her debut. If occasionally the story strains beneath this undertaking — if we hear the squeaky creak of a plot twist or if a character is too conveniently introduced — we hardly mind, for our trusty narrator is as powerful and persuasive and delightfully clever as the narrator in a Victorian novel ... Ng doesn’t miss an opportunity to linger over a minor character, even those we meet for only a moment whose voices might otherwise be rendered in parentheses. At the same time, she offers a nuanced and sympathetic portrait of those terrified of losing power. It is a thrillingly democratic use of omniscience, and, for a novel about class, race, family and the dangers of the status quo, brilliantly apt ... The magic of this novel lies in its power to implicate all of its characters — and likely many of its readers — in that innocent delusion. Who set the little fires everywhere? We keep reading to find out, even as we suspect that it could be us with ash on our hands.
[The] comparison between the outsiders and the comfortable middle class is sharp stuff, and Ng has great fun making not-so-subtle digs at the more parochial characters, balancing their myopia with small cracks of insight ... It’s a little bit Desperate Housewives crossed with racial issues on a soundtrack by Alanis Morissette, but as she did in the first half, Ng parses both sides of the interracial adoption argument with fluent prose ... But situations can move a story only so far. After some time, it becomes clear that Ng’s keenness to write a think piece on interracial adoption is greater than her desire to truly inhabit these characters and their desires. Regrettably, even Mia — who Ng frames as the artist-as-truthteller — remains one note, reducing the effectiveness of her arguments about showing people as she sees them. As for the Asian characters, whose role in part is to provide the chorus of dissent against the McCulloughs, they also fall under tropes. Although the stereotypes are sympathetic as opposed to negative (the benevolent neighbor, the desperate mother), they’re never afforded the same depth of emotional life — however limited — that the white characters are. It’s a huge disappointment. Without fully giving voice to the community central to the inciting incident of the novel, Ng risks reinforcing their marginal nature and fortifying middle-class myopia instead of imploding it.
Little Fires echoes several themes from Ng’s lauded 2014 best-seller, Everything I Never Told You, tracing the fault lines of race, class, and secrecy that run beneath a small Midwestern town. And again, calamity shatters a placid surface on the first page (that title is more than a metaphor). But here, she moves the action up from 1977 to the Clinton-era ’90s and widens her aperture to include a deeper, more diverse cast of characters. Though the book’s language is clean and straightforward, almost conversational, Ng has an acute sense of how real people (especially teenagers, the slang-slinging kryptonite of many an aspiring novelist) think and feel and communicate. Shaker Heights may be a place where 'things were peaceful, and riots and bombs and earthquakes were quiet thumps, muffled by distance.' But the real world is never as far away as it seems, of course. And if the scrim can’t be broken, sometimes you have to burn it down.
It’s a marvelous setting for a novel, reminiscent of the sleepy fictional villages that are forever being ravaged by murder ... The book has some serious themes, but the tone is refreshingly animated, less dependent on ennui and adultery than many of the books that have defined suburban American fiction ... Like Shaker Heights, Little Fires Everywhere is meticulously planned, every storyline and detail placed with obvious purpose. This can be overbearing at times — an on-the-nose college essay prompt comes to mind — but the overall effect is strong and thoroughly enjoyable. Ng is a confident, talented writer, and it’s a pleasure to inhabit the lives of her characters and experience the rhythms of Shaker Heights through her clean, observant prose ... Ng sets fire to Shaker Heights, and the result is both unruly and glorious, a novel that vibrates with the heat of life.
Celeste Ng’s second novel begins with an act of arson... The youngest of the Richardsons’ four children, Izzy, is the prime suspect, but beyond the question of whether she did it, and if so, why, Little Fires Everywhere brims with unexpected diversions and riches ... Like Sue Monk Kidd or Madeleine Thien, Celeste Ng has a carpenter’s sure touch in constructing nested, interconnected plots, and it’s the second plot thread that brings the novel’s fixation with mothers and daughters to the boil ... Ng is particularly concerned with the choices people make, from teens in love, to thwarted mothers, to artists choosing between freedom or success ...resonates far beyond the minor satisfactions of dramatic climaxes and sharp character swerves. There are few novelists writing today who are as wise, compassionate and unsparing as Ng.
As with Ng’s much loved and lauded 2014 debut, Everything I Never Told You, this is a novel about class and race, privilege and prejudice, and unraveling family ties. For a while Ng treads water with mildly involving teen antics and suburban strife. However, after characters pick sides, reveal their true colors and clash, we become in thrall to a multilayered, tightly focused and expertly plotted narrative ... In places, Ng overdoes her fire-and-flames imagery. This niggle aside, she has crafted a deeply impressive novel with the power to provoke and entrance.
[Ng] captures her setting with an ethnologist’s authority, fleshing out the region’s politics (progressive), its local scandal (a divisive custody battle), its infamous high school prank (the legendary Toothpick Day incident). And there are time-capsule pleasures in her evocation of 1997, when Jerry Springer ruled afternoon TV and internet searching was done on AltaVista. The writing is poised and tidy as well—too tidy, in fact, for a novel whose allegiances are with rebels and freethinkers. The characters’ central traits are so baldly stated that they may as well be spelled out in topiary ... Suburbia’s insidious power is that it, much like high school, transforms people into stereotypes, defining them exclusively by the degree to which they 'fit in.' Ms. Ng doesn’t dodge this trap. Which isn’t to say that Little Fires Everywhere isn’t smart and readable. It’s both, eminently so. But 2017 has seen unforgettable breakdowns of suburban domesticity in treatments as various as Nicole Krauss’s intellectual fantasia Forest Dark, Dan Chaon’s gothic horror novel Ill Will and the undiluted surrealism of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks reboot. Ms. Ng’s book seems, in contrast, a little too orderly.
Celeste Ng grew up in Shaker Heights, and has poured her knowledge of the place into the thorough and rather brutal depiction of it here. And she also embodies its spirit in Mrs. Richardson herself. 'All her life she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control,' Ng writes. Better to keep that flame 'carefully controlled. Domesticated. Happy in captivity. The key, she thought, was to avoid conflagration.' Poor Mrs. Richardson. Avoiding conflagration seems unlikely in a book with this title.
Ng begins Little Fires Everywhere with a fireball of a first scene — as high school senior Lexie Richardson would say, literally. On the opening page, we find ordinarily coiffed and cucumber-cool Elena Richardson standing in her bathrobe on her normally manicured lawn, watching aghast as her hulking six-bedroom home goes up in flames … Though we do find out whodunit in the end, it’s almost beside the point. In its place, what Ng delivers is a finely wrought meditation on the nature of motherhood, the dangers of privilege and a cautionary tale about how even the tiniest of secrets can rip families apart and turn perceptions on their head … Though the narrative jumps back and forth through time from rabbit hole to rabbit hole...there isn’t a section that doesn’t capture our imagination.
Ng’s stunning second novel is a multilayered examination of how identities are forged and maintained, how families are formed and friendships tested, and how the notion of motherhood is far more fluid than bloodlines would suggest. Ng’s debut, Everything I Never Told You, was a book-group staple. Laden with themes of loyalty and betrayal, honesty and trust, her latest tour de force should prove no less popular.
The intertwining of the families, two contrasting models of motherhood equally possible in contemporary America, sets up the conflict... In this, the central action of Little Fires Everywhere, Ng is masterful, exposing with terrifying acuity just how the well-meaning wealthy, afforded so much moral reverence in contemporary America, can be cruel and even evil ...question of who qualifies as a good mother, along with the idea that the state or the wealthy and the white must protect immigrant children from the cruelties of their unfit immigrant parents, are issues woven through... Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere does just that, isolating and teasing out the threads of class conformity, racist fear, and the hierarchies and codes that partake subtly of both.
...a claustrophobic and compelling novel ... All of these betrayals and rejections are going down in Ng’s precisely rendered perfect suburb: Shaker Heights, a 'planned community' of immaculate lawns and strict aesthetic rules, in which houses must be either Tudor, English, or French style, and may be painted only one of three permitted colors. It’s a thoroughly domesticated town. The only thing that could possibly disturb such a place would be the enormous emotional heat of a mother/child relationship going wrong.
What happens when your carefully laid plans ignite and all that is left is a heap of ashes? Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng's riveting new novel, explores that question, unearthing the ways that race, class, motherhood and belonging intersect to shape each individual ... The novel exhibits a preoccupation with how race and identity are viewed and shaped in mostly-white suburban communities — communities that espouse lofty progressive ideals yet are blind or, worse, unsympathetic to inequality ... Perhaps Ng's most impressive feat is inviting the reader's forgiveness for Mrs. Richardson –– a woman whose own mission for perfection, and strict adherence to rules ultimately become the catalyst for the maelstrom that ensues.
Ng narrates in a poised, old-fashioned omniscient voice that peers into the heads of all the characters while also providing a bird's-eye view of Shaker Heights, the wealthy suburb of Cleveland they inhabit. Ng's characters are authentic and complex, but it's her confident narration that will invite readers to settle in for the ride — a storyteller who knows what she's doing is at the wheel … Ng shows how the presence of an artist who has eschewed the stock measures of American success — a big house, a steady job, plenty of money, children who are popular and successful in academics and athletics — threatens people who have bought into this system, even at the cost of damaging their kids.
This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright ... The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege. With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.
...both an intricate and captivating portrait of an eerily perfect suburban town with its dark undertones not-quite-hidden from view and a powerful and suspenseful novel about motherhood ... As both Mrs. Richardson and Mia Warren overstep their boundaries, Ng explores the complexities of adoption, surrogacy, abortion, privacy, and class, questioning all the while who earns, who claims, and who loses the right to be called a mother. This is an impressive accomplishment.