Cover: Penguin Press/Background: Twenty20

Celeste Ng’s New Novel Tackles Class, Art and Motherhood

Celeste Ng’s second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, opens on a blaze—or, more specifically, little fires everywhere—ravaging a beautiful home in the utopian suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio. As members of the Richardson family watch their house’s destruction from the street, they reach one conclusion: It must’ve been Izzy.

But wait: Who’s Izzy? That’s the central question that drives the rest of this novel, which is equal parts clever, relatable, surprising and unsettling.

Shaker Heights is a picture of suburban bliss, and the Richardsons are its ideal inhabitants, with their summer home, fleet of cars and WASP-y names. The Warrens, their new tenants down the street, are less of a fit. Mia is a mysterious artist, content to live like a nomad, and her daughter, Pearl, immediately becomes infatuated with the Richardson’s stable life.

As Pearl spends more and more time with her landlords, Mia gets a shadow of her own: Izzy, the misunderstood, black sheep Richardson daughter, who views Mia's eccentricities as a preferable alternative to her own mother's cookie-cutter life. 

Ng covers a lot of ground here, from class nuance to the nature of conformity. But the story really shines when she examines complex mother-daughter relationships and how they work…until they don’t.

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