Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere

by Celeste Ng

Hardcover

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780735224292
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/12/2017
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 563
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

CELESTE NG grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. She attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers' Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award. Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is the recipient of the Pushcart Prize. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and son.

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
1

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down. All spring the gossip had been about little Mirabelle McCullough—or, depending which side you were on, May Ling Chow—and now, at last, there was something new and sensational to discuss. A little after noon on that Saturday in May, the shoppers pushing their grocery carts in Heinen’s heard the fire engines wail to life and careen away, toward the duck pond. By a quarter after twelve there were four of them parked in a haphazard red line along Parkland Drive, where all six bedrooms of the Richardson house were ablaze, and everyone within a half mile could see the smoke rising over the trees like a dense black thundercloud. Later people would say that the signs had been there all along: that Izzy was a little lunatic, that there had always been something off about the Richardson family, that as soon as they heard the sirens that morning they knew something terrible had happened. By then, of course, Izzy would be long gone, leaving no one to defend her, and people could—and did—say whatever they liked. At the moment the fire trucks arrived, though, and for quite a while afterward, no one knew what was happening. Neighbors clustered as close to the makeshift barrier—a police cruiser, parked crosswise a few hundred yards away—as they could and watched the firefighters unreel their hoses with the grim faces of men who recognized a hopeless cause. Across the street, the geese at the pond ducked their heads underwater for weeds, wholly unruffled by the commotion.

Mrs. Richardson stood on the tree lawn, clutching the neck of her pale blue robe closed. Although it was already afternoon, she had still been asleep when the smoke detectors had sounded. She had gone to bed late, and had slept in on purpose, telling herself she deserved it after a rather difficult day. The night before, she had watched from an upstairs window as a car had finally pulled up in front of the house. The driveway was long and circular, a deep horseshoe arc bending from the curb to the front door and back—so the street was a good hundred feet away, too far for her to see clearly, and even in May, at eight o’clock it was almost dark, besides. But she had recognized the small tan Volkswagen of her tenant, Mia, its headlights shining. The passenger door opened and a slender figure emerged, leaving the door ajar: Mia’s teenage daughter, Pearl. The dome light lit the inside of the car like a shadow box, but the car was packed with bags nearly to the ceiling and Mrs. Richardson could only just make out the faint silhouette of Mia’s head, the messy topknot perched at the crown of her head. Pearl bent over the mailbox, and Mrs. Richardson imagined the faint squeak as the mailbox door opened, then shut. Then Pearl hopped back into the car and closed the door. The brake lights flared red, then winked out, and the car puttered off into the growing night. With a sense of relief, Mrs. Richardson had gone down to the mailbox and found a set of keys on a plain ring, with no note. She had planned to go over in the morning and check the rental house on Winslow Road, even though she already knew that they would be gone.

It was because of this that she had allowed herself to sleep in, and now

it was half past twelve and she was standing on the tree lawn in her robe and a pair of her son Trip’s tennis shoes, watching their house burn to the ground. When she had awoken to the shrill scream of the smoke detector, she ran from room to room looking for him, for Lexie, for Moody. It struck her that she had not looked for Izzy, as if she had known already that Izzy was to blame. Every bedroom was empty except for the smell of gasoline and a small crackling fire set directly in the middle of each bed, as if a demented Girl Scout had been camping there. By the time she checked the living room, the family room, the rec room, and the kitchen, the smoke had begun to spread, and she ran outside at last to hear the sirens, alerted by their home security system, already approaching. Out in the driveway, she saw that Trip’s Jeep was gone, as was Lexie’s Explorer, and Moody’s bike, and, of course, her husband’s sedan. He usually went into the office to play catch-up on Saturday mornings. Someone would have to call him at work. She remembered then that Lexie, thank god, had stayed over at Serena Wong’s house last night. She wondered where Izzy had gotten to. She wondered where her sons were, and how she would find them to tell them what had happened.

By the time the fire was put out the house had not, despite Mrs. Richardson’s fears, quite burned to the ground. The windows were all gone but the brick shell of the house remained, damp and blackened and steaming, and most of the roof, the dark slate shingles gleaming like fish scales from their recent soaking. The Richardsons would not be allowed inside for another few days, until the fire department’s engineers had tested each of the beams still standing, but even from the tree lawn—the closest the yellow cautiontape would allow them to come—they could see there was little inside to be saved.

“Jesus Christ,” Lexie said. She was perched on the roof of her car, which was now parked across the street, on the grass bordering the duck pond. She and Serena had still been asleep, curled up back-to-back in Serena’s queen size, when Dr. Wong shook her shoulder just after one, whispering, “Lexie. Lexie, honey. Wake up. Your mom just called.” They had stayed up past two a.m., talking—as they had been all spring—about little Mirabelle McCullough, arguing about whether the judge had decided right or wrong, about whether her new parents should’ve gotten custody or if she should’ve been given back to her own mother. “Her name isn’t even really Mirabelle McCullough, for god’s sake,” Serena had said at last, and they’d lapsed into sullen, troubled silence until they both fell asleep.

Now Lexie watched the smoke billow from her bedroom window, the front one that looked over the lawn, and thought of everything inside that was gone. Every T-shirt in her dresser, every pair of jeans in her closet. All the notes Serena had written her since the sixth grade, still folded in paper footballs, which she’d kept in a shoebox under her bed; the bed itself, the very sheets and comforter charred to a crisp. The rose corsage her boyfriend, Brian, had given her at homecoming, hung to dry on her vanity, the petals darkened from ruby to dried-blood red. Now it was nothing but ashes. In the change of clothes she had brought to Serena’s, Lexie realized suddenly, she was better off than the rest of her family: in the backseat she had a duffel bag, a pair of jeans, a toothbrush. Pajamas. She glanced at her brothers, at her mother, still in her bathrobe on their tree lawn, and thought, They have literally nothing but the clothes on their backs. Literally was one of Lexie’s favorite words, which she deployed even when the situation was anything but literal. In this case, for once, it was more or less true.

Trip, from his spot beside her, absentmindedly ran one hand through

his hair. The sun was high overhead now and the sweat made his curls stand up rather rakishly. He had been playing basketball at the community center when he heard fire trucks wailing, but had thought nothing of it. (This morning he had been particularly preoccupied, but in truth he likely would not have noticed anyway.) Then, at one, when everyone got hungry and decided to call it a game, he had driven home. True to form, even with the windows down he had not noticed the huge cloud of smoke wafting toward him, and he only began to realize something was wrong when he found his street blocked off by a police car. After ten minutes of explaining, he had finally been allowed to park his Jeep across from the house, where Lexie and Moody were already waiting. The three of them sat on the car’s roof in order, as they had in all the family portraits that had once hung in the stairwell and were now reduced to ash. Lexie, Trip, Moody: senior, junior, sophomore. Beside them they felt the hole that Izzy, the freshman, the black sheep, the wild card, had left behind— though they were still certain, all of them, that this hole would be temporary.

“What was she thinking?” Moody muttered, and Lexie said, “Even she knows she’s gone too far this time, that’s why she ran off. When she comes back, Mom is going to murder her.”

“Where are we going to stay?” Trip asked. A moment of silence unreeled as they contemplated their situation.

“We’ll get a hotel room or something,” said Lexie finally. “I think that’s what Josh Trammell’s family did.” Everyone knew this story: how a few years ago Josh Trammell, a sophomore, had fallen asleep with a candle lit and burned his parents’ house down. The long-standing rumor at the high school was that it wasn’t a candle, it was a joint, but the house had been so thoroughly gutted there was no way to tell, and Josh had stuck to his candle story. Everyone still thought of him as that dumbass jock who burned the house down, even though that had been ages ago, and Josh had recently graduated from Ohio State with honors. Now, of course, Josh Trammell’s fire would no longer be the most famous fire in Shaker Heights.

“One hotel room? For all of us?”

“Whatever. Two rooms. Or we’ll stay at the Embassy Suites. I don’t know.” Lexie tapped her fingers against her knee. She wanted a cigarette, but after what had just happened—and in full view of her mother and ten firemen—she didn’t dare light one. “Mom and Dad will figure it out. And the insurance will pay for it.” Although she had only a vague sense of how insurance worked, this seemed plausible. In any case, this was a problem for the adults, not for them.

The last of the firemen were emerging from the house, pulling the masks from their faces. Most of the smoke had gone, but a mugginess still hung everywhere, like the air in the bathroom after a long, hot shower. The roof of the car was getting hot, and Trip stretched his legs down the windshield, poking the wipers with the toe of his flip-flop. Then he started to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Lexie said.

“Just picturing Izzy running around striking matches everywhere.” He snorted. “The nutcase.”

Moody drummed a finger on the roof rack. “Why is everybody so sure she did it?”

“Come on.” Trip jumped down off the car. “It’s Izzy. And we’re all here. Mom’s here. Dad’s on his way. Who’s missing?”

“So Izzy’s not here. She’s the only one who could be  responsible?”

Responsible?” put in Lexie. “Izzy?”

“Dad was at work,” Trip said. “Lexie was at Serena’s. I was over at

Sussex playing ball. You?”

Moody hesitated. “I biked over to the library.”

“There. You see?” To Trip, the answer was obvious. “The only ones here were Izzy and Mom. And Mom was asleep.”

“Maybe the wiring in the house shorted. Or maybe someone left the stove on.”

“The firemen said there were little fires everywhere,” Lexie said. “Multiple points of origin. Possible use of accelerant. Not an  accident.”

“We all know she’s always been mental.” Trip leaned back against the car door.

“You’re all always picking on her,” Moody said. “Maybe that’s why she acts mental.”

Across the street, the fire trucks began to reel in their hoses. The three remaining Richardson children watched the firemen set down their axes and peel away their smoky yellow coats.

“Someone should go over and stay with Mom,” Lexie said, but no one moved.

After a minute, Trip said, “When Mom and Dad find Iz, they are going to lock her up in a psych ward for the rest of her life.”

No one thought about the recent departure of Mia and Pearl from the house on Winslow Road. Mrs. Richardson, watching the fire chief meticulously taking notes on his clipboard, had completely forgotten about her former tenants. She had not yet mentioned it to her husband or her children; Moody had discovered their absence only earlier that morning, and was still unsure what to make of it. Far down Parkland Drive the small blue dot of their father’s BMW began to approach.

“What makes you so sure they’ll find her?” Moody asked.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Little Fires Everywhere"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Celeste Ng.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

1. Shaker Heights is almost another character in the novel. Do you believe that “the best communities are planned”? Why or why not?

2. Little Fires Everywhere is set in the late 1990s, and we see the experiences of marginalized characters in the novel, as well as their interactions with those in the larger community. In what ways are attitudes toward race and class the same today? In what ways are they different?

3. There are many different kinds of mother-daughter relationships in the novel. Which ones did you find most compelling? Do mothers have a unique ability to spark fires, for good and ill, in us?

4. Which of the Richardson children is most changed by the events of the novel? How do you think this time ultimately changes Lexie’s life? Trip’s? Moody’s?

5. The debate over the fate of May Ling/Mirabelle is multilayered and heartbreaking. Who do you think should raise her?

6. How is motherhood defined throughout the book? How do choice, opportunity, and circumstances impact different characters’ approach to motherhood?

7. Mia’s journey to becoming an artist is almost a beautiful novella of its own. Mia’s art clearly has the power to change lives. What piece of art has shaped your life in an important way?

8. Pearl has led a singular life before arriving in Shaker, but once she meets the Richardsons, she has the chance to become a “normal” teenager. Is that a good thing?

9. What ultimately bothers Elena most about Mia?

10. The novel begins with a great conflagration, but its conclusion in even more devastating. What do you think happens to Elena after the novel ends? To Mia and Pearl? To Izzy? Do you think Izzy ever returns to Shaker and her family? Why or why not?

11. Celeste Ng is noted for her ability to shift between the perspective of different characters in her work. How does that choice shape the reader’s experience of the novel?

12. Izzy chooses “This Be the Verse” to sum up her life. Is what the poem says accurate, in the context of Izzy’s experience?

13. What does the title mean to you? What about the book’s dedication?

Customer Reviews

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Little Fires Everywhere 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 99 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow! I cant find the words to describe this incredible book! I loved it! Could not put it down. Celeste Ng is an outstanding, talented writer! Her words flow like poetry. Every character is so well defined, I felt as though I was right there with each and every one, I cant stop thinking of them and, actually miss them. Highly recommend this amazing, beautiful book!!! I am anxiously waiting for her next gem of a book. Thank you Celeste !! Please write another winner soon!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another book by this young author with enough plots an and subplots to keep you guessing throughout.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very captivating! Great personality analysis within an interesting plot. Lots of contrasts keep it thought provoking
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found the first part of this book having a little too stereotypical Look at a upper. Middle class family. Second half the story deepened and became more about motherhood and the relationships. Then I liked it. The writing was good although sometimes the back and forth of the settings and characters needed a quick reread. I finished the book with something to think about which I liked very much. This would be a good book for a ladies book club.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book about the meaning of family and the depths of love. Ng is a talented and thought provoking author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a beautiful and powerful story. Incredibly well conceived and well told. Motherhood and entitlement
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Quick read! It's a story about 2 families entwined. One mother, Mrs. Richardson who is selfish and the other, Mia who is compassionate. It's tragic how it ends but bittersweet as well. The title describes it perfectly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn’t get into this book. It was just an ok read. Disappointing because it had so many good reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So many cultural and value based discussions will happen when groups gather to discuss this book. Complex characters living seemingly simple lives. All is not what it seems.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Characters you care about. Two households that impact each other in interesting & unexpected ways.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Left me breathless,
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written.....pulled me in and I stayed.. it was like looking over the shoulder of each character. Sitting at the counter as Ima, Lexxi, and Pearl chatted. Felt the pain of nobody understand Bebe's feelings and heartbreak. The anger over the rudeness and deliberate hurt caused by the snooping of Barbara,, no matter how much damage, chaos, pain, and destruction of lives it created......it was a beautiful story of life......thank you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Page turner. I wish it continued on. Such a great author and one of my new favorite books of all time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book completely captivated me. Such intricately woven storylines with beautiful prose.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Took forever to get to the point, ending a huge letdown. ..just dumb
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book touches on the realities of race and class distinction, family drama, the trials of motherhood, teenage hormones and a mysterious outsider in the established community of Shaker Heights.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Family from the inside out.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it
Anonymous 23 hours ago
3.5 stars >> You know when you've waited so long to read a book, and hyped it up in your mind so much, that when you read it, its sort of lets you down. That's what happened to me with Little Fires Everywhere. But its not really even the book's fault. It's mine. I held on to this for so long, waiting for the perfect time to read it and love it, because everyone I saw reading it loved it. But the story just fell short for me. I adore Ng's writing style. Adore it. But I guess I preferred Everything I Never Told You to this one
Anonymous 6 days ago
I loved reading it. The family dynamics were interesting.
susieq1 4 months ago
This book was just ok. It didn't really keep my interest as it was rather slow.
BookLoverinFlorida 5 months ago
This story is set in a strange little town, Shaker Heights, that I was not too keen on - seems way too cookie cutter for my taste. I know I would not live there - I need variety in life. This is another story of what seems to be a picture perfect family until you begin removing their layers. An intriguing read for a beach vacation!
Anonymous 6 months ago
I couldn't put this book down! Beautifully written.
Anonymous 12 months ago
We read this for book club. It was well liked by everyone. What a great difference in families, their thoughts and how events changed them. It was an easy read and hard to put down.