This book is impossible to dislike but neither did it ignite a burning blaze. Rather, like hot buttered toast, it’s comforting, easy to digest and not overly sweet. Every so often it gets a bit edgy but that soon passes and the overall effect is of having spent a good amount of time alone and peacefully curled up in snug armchair.
Ng’s story is located in the planned community of Shaker Heights, where most people fall into the category of organised, happy achievers. For those who don’t, life is a bit of a strain. One such misfit is Izzy Richardson, who is in constant conflict with her sunny blessed siblings and successful parents. When the Richardson family take on new tenants for the little cottage they own across town, Izzy finds a sympathetic ear in the new arrival to town, Mia, a nomadic artist and bohemian thinker. Meanwhile, Mia’s daughter, Pearl, strikes up a close friendship with the Richardson’s youngest son, Moody, whilst harbouring a crush on the older Trip.
Into this mix is thrown a moral dilemma that divides the usually united Shaker Heights community – a young Chinese single mother abandons her baby one night and the child is handed to a wealthy doting couple, lifelong friends of the Richardsons and who have been desperately trying for a baby for decades. But then the birth mother, who works with Mia waitressing in a takeaway, changes her mind and the case ends up in court. Running parallel to this narrative is a thread about a pregnant teenager and another about Mia’s past and how she got pregnant with Pearl. These two stories are presented as raising equally complex ethical questions but really they don’t – they are about society’s moral standards and the way those too often lead to shame and secrecy. Who should have custody of the abandoned baby is much less clear and Ng explores the many angles to the arguments with compassion and sensitivity.
It’s all a little laboured and obvious, as are the burning fire motifs and themes like control of ones destiny and regret. I didn’t care deeply for any of the characters or feel strongly about what they were going through. Nor have their experiences stuck firmly in my memory – though the abruptness of the ending has done. But this lack of strong feelings is rather soothing. So too is being slowly carried along on the gentle virtuous undulations of LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE. My overall verdict: Perfectly lovely while it lasted but definitely now time to move onto something else.