“Sometimes, just when you think everything’s gone, you find a way…Like after a prairie fire. I saw one, years ago, when we were in Nebraska. It seems like the end of the world. The earth is all scorched and black and everything green is gone. But after the burning, the soil is richer, and new things can grow…People are like that, too, you know. They start over. They find a way.”
— Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere
On the heels of her hugely successful debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, the second literary effort from Celeste Ng (@pronounced_ing) is called Little Fires Everywhere, but could very well be titled “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” (if not for Mr. Eggers) or simply “Trainwreck Central” (if only that title wouldn’t cause so much confusion among train enthusiasts). Call it beautiful, astounding, revelatory, captivating – just don’t call it late for the fireworks. And that’s because there are plenty of them in this rich tapestry of voices and shared histories.
Through Little Fires Everywhere, we are witness to an author who, with a practiced deftness beyond her years, delves into the intimate pasts of so many men and women, boys and girls, to bring about a cavalcade of experiences that are somehow, in some way far past the reader’s imagination, connected.
This novel reminded me so much of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom in all of the good ways – excellent character development, an intriguing plot, a window into the human condition – but with a tighter ending than what some would call Mr. Franzen’s opus.
Now this is ironic, for me at least, because of who Ms. Ng’s publisher has chosen to be the frontline supporter for Little Fires Everywhere: Jodi Picoult. There’s Ms. Picoult’s name splashed across all editions of the novel! And why not? Jodi Picoult is the bestselling author of something like 254 novels on…you guessed it! The New York Times bestseller list.
But within the publishing world, she’s also known as one of two women, along with fellow bestselling author Jennifer Weiner, who stood up to the alleged “literary establishment’s shoddy treatment of commercial writers” in the wake of “Freedomgate.” Jason Pinter wrote an article about this, “Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner Speak Out on Franzen Feud,” in which he interviewed both women.
Apparently, Ms. Picoult and Ms. Weiner got caught in the crossfire after Franzen published Freedom, landed himself on the cover of Time magazine, and had the Times drooling all over him and everything Midwest or Minnesotan.
Ms. Weiner summed up her point quite nicely by stating in the above interview:
“I think it’s a very old and deep-seated double standard that holds that when a man writes about family and feelings, it’s literature with a capital L, but when a woman considers the same topics, it’s romance, or a beach book – in short, it’s something unworthy of a serious critic’s attention.”
I won’t concern myself with this curfuffle/kerfuffle – or whatever it is – but I will say that Little Fires Everywhere is most definitely Literature, prose fiction, or whatever the France label you want to put on it to make it sound more part of la noblesse or the literati.