Little Fires Everywhere

Author: Celeste Ng

Finished: September 27, 2019

Goodreads link


In general, this book spoke a lot to me, especially at this time of my life, when I am about to embark on a huge journey to discover what about my life is the most important to me. This is related to Mia's life as an itinerant artist, but also in general to the theme of "little fires." Following your passion. Not just following the prescribed rules.

I really liked Ng's writing style. It was very accurate in the descriptions but also I never got lost in a sea of unnecessary prose or fluff. She had some great descriptions and there were so many little things that really completed the details and created so many feels (like Moody ripping up the notebook!). She paid a lot of attention to details and did her research and it shows.

  • I first realized Ng's prose was marvelous by page 3 with the imagery of "a small crackling fire set directly in the middle of each bed, as if a demented Girl Scout had been camping there." What concise but wonderful imagery.
  • Also something like "some were medieval paintings in gilt frames hardly bigger than CD jewel cases" (93) ... I loved that you could make a time-related reference in an analogy!
  • A lot of sex happens in this book but the first and only description of it is when Trip and Pearl do it for the first time. I thought that was sweet and showed a lot about both of their characters and even more emphasized their mutual attraction to each other...
  • Love the part where Moody digs through Pearl's backpack and finds the "little black Moleskine notebook he had given her ... the spine hadn't even been cracked..." (279) and he rips up the notebook... ugh so good

Themes I liked

Little Fires

  • "To those out on their own paths, setting little fires" (the dedication). The little fires being your passion projects, your ambitions. This can be taken too far (as is the case with Izzy and setting literal fires).... but I take it to mean taking charge of your life and your passions in whatever way makes the most sense TO YOUR LIFE.
  • "he'd been drawn to that spark, that certainty of purpose, how she always knew her mind and had a plan, how deeply concerned she was with right verses right" (112)
  • little spark is also Linda McCullough and each time she is pregnant and each time she miscarries ... "painfully aware each time that something alive had sparked in her, and that somehow that little spark had gone out" (131)
  • Elena - "All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control." (161) - Weird though that there was no catalyst to set it off for her to control it so ... that part felt lacking. She just domesticated it bc it was the thing to do in Shaker

    • "Carefully controlled. Domesticated. Happy in captivity"

Rich (Entitled) White People

  • Mrs. Richardson (and Linda McCullough) means well but is a great example of white woman trying to take charge to give out charity to make herself feel self-righteous and charitable

    • "She wanted to feel that she was doing good with it" (12) (Mrs. Richardson leasing out her second house for cheap) ... she "looked at the house as a form of charity"
  • The bubble that the Richardsons live in

    • "Moody almost could not believe that people could be so poor" (19)
    • And Pearl's enchantment with them - "they dazzled her, these Richardsons: with their easy confidence, their clear sense of purpose, no matter the time of day" (35) — almost because they never had anything REAL to ever worry about, they can strut about life as confident as can be because they have the free obstacle-free space to do so
    • "this sureness in themselves" ... This sureness that comes with a rich, stable, family, a confidence I lacked when I was growing up myself
  • Elena does such a good job being a vengeful, self-serving, privileged, entitled white woman, and Ng does such a good job portraying this with such subtlety, especially as she tries to wheedle more information from Pearl (at Lexie's Yale celebration brunch) about her childhood and about Mia's life
  • When Elena goes to her friend Elizabeth the doctor to get abortion details ... "Elena thought she was owed this" (288)

Rules

"She had been brought up to follow rules ... She had, in short, done everything right and she had built a good life, the kind of life she wanted, the kind of life everyone wanted. Now here was Mia, a completely different kind of woman leading a completely different life, who seemed to make her own rules with no apologies" (69)

  • "She had a beautiful house, a steady job, a loving husband, a brood of healthy and happy children; surely that was worth the trade. Rules existed for a reason: if you followed them, you would succeed; if you didn't, you might burn the world to the ground" (161)
  • "The problem with rules was that they implied a right way and a wrong way to do things. When, in fact, most of the time there were simply ways, none of them quite wrong or quite right" (269)

Mia and her Art

  • "I prefer to show people as I see them" (67)
  • I responded a lot with Mia and her itinerant life as an artist - as this is what I am about to embark on!
  • "I don't have a plan, I'm afraid ... But then, no one really does, no matter what they say" (91)
  • "You use words to change the world" (148)
  • "Hold on to that. Trust your eyes. They see well" (192)
  • She is a "sorceress" (194)
  • In art school Mia finally learns to "articulate her reasons for choosing" certain configurations for taking photos ... not only finding the settings that make it look right but "explain why it looked right that specific way" (204)

    • "Pauline challenged her to be intentional, to plan her work, to make a statement in each photograph, no matter how straightforward the photo might seem" (206)
    • "Nothing is an accident"
    • "Everything had nuance"
    • "Everything was worth looking at more closely"
  • "Some pictures belong to the person who took them. And some belong to the person inside them." (313)

Motherhood

This book made me think a lot about motherhood - something I never think about. Mia, Elena, Linda, Bebe - all have different versions of the same motherhood. I didn't realize motherhood was so powerful. I actually brought up the Bebe court case to my own mother and my mother said that Bebe (the real mother) should have the child. A mother needs her own child. I found that surprising because I actually found myself (regrettably) drifting towards the decision that the McCulloughs should have the baby, because in the end they WOULD be the one best able to provide a life of money and opportunities.....

And Virginity - Mia is married to her art (and a clever shortening of "Maria" - since she is literally a virgin since she never had sex). I loved the Scarlet Letter reference (also ... Pauline Hawthorne and Nathaniel Hawthorne?).

  • "I wonder I am dreaming. But which one is the dream? That I can't find my baby? Or that I have the baby at all?" (121)
  • Linda and her "seven little ghosts" (133)
  • "It's not a question of deserving. I just think a mother has a right to raise her own child" (302)

    • Elena and her entitlement + Mia and mothers' inalienable rights

Also - Mia reminds me of Joyce from Stranger Things

Small Suburbia

  • Small-town in suburbia, mostly white with marginalized Asians? Totally get it.

    • "It was a town built for cars and for people who had cars" (15)
    • "routine and rather pedestrian and terribly nice" (103)

Court Case

I liked the subtle references to To Kill a Mockingbird (big social issues being raised in the courthouse). Maybe that is a common trope but

Loved the depictions of Asians in this book. I felt like I could relate a lot to this white town with few Asians and the difficulty to find Asian dolls books anything. And Ed Lim being made fun of to marry the one other Asian kid in high school - totally relate.

  • "an angry Asian man didn't fit the public's expectations, and was therefore unnerving" (267)

    • "They were not allowed to be angry and articulate and powerful"

What is a house without race?


Prose I liked

  • "delicate fossil"
  • "girl asleep in a lush green bed"
  • "mute, futile fury"
  • "interrogating images of femininity and identity" (99)
  • "the young are the same, always and everywhere" (171)
  • "she curled up on the bed, feeling small and pink and tender as a cocktail shrimp, and let her fantasy go, like a balloon soaring into the sky until it burst" (177)
  • "They wasted nothing, especially not time" (197)
  • "The hot plates she carried from the kitchen seared the insides of her forearms with arc-shaped scars" (199)
  • "She talked art with the older students..." (200)
  • "Mia came home from the restaurant with two foam containers of leftover noodles and a new idea" (249)
  • "forest of skyscrapers stabbing upward like needles" (254)
  • "what a thing, to choose between hunger and darkness" (255)
  • "confidence fizzing in her veins" (271)
  • "she lingered comfortably in the gray spaces" (274)
  • "small glittering shard of her history" (308)
  • "it was unbearably intimate, like catching a glimpse of your own naked body in a mirror" (327)