LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng

A slow-moving character portrait filled with complex family dynamics and small-town politics, this book felt like something I read in the fifties or sixties.  Here’s the official plot:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons, a well-to-do, seemingly ideal family. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby who was found abandoned at a fire station, it turns out that the single mother, new to the country, had recovered her health and a bit of finances and was not frantically looking for her daughter.  She learns that of the couple who now have her child, and a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak.

We meet the Richardsons first as they stand across the street, watching their beautiful, spacious home burn to the ground.  All are there, all except the rebellious youngest, Izzy.  Are ya getting a sniff of what happened?

I liked it, but the undercurrent, ok, uppercurrent, of a screed against suburbia did seem a bit dated. Hell, we all know by know that that suburbs are soul-sucking constructs that will eat the meat out of you.  I really must read her other touted work, Everything I Never Told You, and see how that goes.

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