Little Fires Everywhere

IMG_7488The story is the battle between suburbia and bohemianism, and the deck is stacked. It’s obvious almost from the beginning that suburbia is going to lose, and that we are meant to rejoice in its downfall. And while I think that a thoughtful critique of suburbia is warranted and valuable, the heavy-handedness, almost preachiness, of Little Fires Everywhere, is unlikely to spur suburban readers to real self-reflection. It’s far too easy to dissociate from the unlikeable, teased out caricatures of suburban life and reassure ourselves that we aren’t like that. On the other hand, bohemianism is so romanticized and glorified that if we readers don’t dare to ask questions that might detract from the golden glow of the “free spirit” lifestyle, for fear of finding ourselves on the side of the Mrs. Richardsons. The extremes of both philosophies are illuminated, and there’s no question which side we’re supposed to take. Apparently no middle ground exists.

Things I liked:

It was an easy read. I read it in four days, and it definitely drew me in.

I really appreciated that the author brought some nuance to the subplot of the custody battle over May Ling. It would have been really easy to make the McCulloughs flat-out villains, and I’m glad that the author painted a picture of the pain of infertility and made the McCulloughs more sympathetic.

I always enjoy it when fiction writers give me a glimpse into what it’s like to work at a specific craft. In The Goldfinch, for example, it was the craft of refinishing antique furniture. Here it was the world of photography and Mia’s art. I always enjoy all those little details.

Things I didn’t like:

There was a great deal of telling us about characters, rather than showing us who they were and allowing their characters to unfold naturally.

Mrs. Richardson was a caricature. As readers, we know we are supposed to dislike her and expect the worst from her. Mia was the opposite, but still a caricature. She had no flaws– well, actually I would see it as a big fat flaw when a mom breezily sacrifices all her daughter’s sense of stability for the sake of her (the mom’s) art, but the author goes out of her way to preach to us that that is in fact The Wrong Attitude To Have, and if we have it then we are No Better Than Mrs. Richardson and All The Other Repressed Shaker Heights People.

Too many times I was asked to suspend my disbelief, or swallow a convenient coincidence. I knew exactly what was going to happen when Lexie gave Pearl’s name at the clinic. The whole subplot with the Ryans was incredibly contrived.

The head-hopping. The author jerks us from one character’s perspective to the next in the same scene, without ever letting us really get close to any of them. And while we are often told exactly what a character is thinking, there is never any true sinking into their perspective, so none of the characters has a unique “voice.”

Sum-up:

Obviously, most readers have loved Little Fires Everywhere. As an Enneagram 4, I don’t have a problem with being the odd-one-out. I can understand why most people find it a wonderful book. And I can’t say that I disliked it; it was a fun reading experience. I just don’t find the story to be nearly as deep as it is pretending to be and as most of the reading public says it is. It was an enjoyable weekend read and nothing more.

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