Thought Box

Trouble In Paradise

Trouble In Paradise

by Deepa Gahlot January 12 2018, 5:55 pm Estimated Reading Time: 2 mins, 42 secs

Celeste Ng’s award-winning debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, was set in the Seventies, and explored issues of race and alienation of the ‘outsider’, triggered when the daughter of a mixed race family disappears.

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In her second book, Little Fires Everywhere, she shifts her focus on class, with equal astuteness and empathy.
In the clean and orderly town of Shaker Heights, with its perfectly manicured lawns, homes with coordinated paint jobs and matching trees, the first fire is lit by the arrival of a Bohemian photographer, Mia Warren and her teenage daughter Pearl. The literal fires are, however, lit by the disgruntled Izzy Richardson, who is the black sheep of her family; when the book opens, she has set her home on fire and disappeared.

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The novel is set in the 1990s, when the Jerry Springer show on TV and pagers are the hot favourites among teenagers. The affluent Richardson family-- lawyer dad, journalist mom Elena and their four kids, Lexie, Trip, Moody and Izzy-- live happily, till Mia and Pearl appear to rent an apartment from Elena. They live like nomads, packing their meagre belongings into a small car and moving whenever Mia thinks she is done with a place. Their clothes are from thrift shops, their mismatched furniture from junkyards. Elena tries to do good and offers Mia a job as he cook and housekeeper, which she reluctantly accepts so as not to appear ungrateful.

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Moody immediately befriends Pearl and she becomes like an extra kid in the house full of youngsters.  Meanwhile Izzy is besotted with Mia, and wishes her family was as laidback.

As the relationships between the kids get complicated, Elena starts to resent Mia and digs into her past—the book digressing into the birth of Pearl and the reason for Mia’s unsettled life. Meanwhile the two families end up on opposite sides of the town’s latest cause célèbre.  A childless white couple, the McCulloughs, take in a Chinese infant abandoned by her impoverished mother, Bebe.  But when she gets a job, she wants her child back—Mia supports her while Elena stands by her friend Linda McCullough, and her husband fights the case on their behalf in court. The Richardson’s believe they are not racist – Lexie has a black boyfriend—but scratch the surface and their hidden class and race prejudices surface. Only Izzy is surprisingly clear-sighted and vociferous, for which her family labels her as crazy.

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Ng’s portrayal of shiny suburban Americana is sharp and satirical; she may not be too disparaging of the strictly regimented Shaker Heights, but her sympathies clearly lie with those who break out of set moulds, whether it’s Mia, her teacher and mentor Pauline Hawthorne, or the rebellious Izzy (who reminds the reader of Linda in the earlier book).
Little Fire Everywhere has been picked by actress-producer Reese Witherspoon has selected it for a Big Little Lies-style adaptation for television.   
Little Fires Everywhere
By Celeste Ng
Publisher:  Penguin
Pages: 352

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