Little Fires Everywhere

Besides watching movies, I also love curling up with a good book. This year, my Goodreads goal is 50 books. I’m a little over 40% of the way there, mostly thanks to many technically heavy books on marketing, filmmaking, and story structure. That said, there’s truly nothing more pleasurable than great fiction storytelling. Just like in my favorite movies, my most loved books are character-driven. Before plot or style, I need strong, memorable characters. This weekend, I finished Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. If you’re a pop culture nerd like yours truly, you’ll know that the upcoming Hulu miniseries adaptation stars and is produced by the unbelievably talented Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon.

Celeste Ng’s writing style reminds me of that of one of my favorite authors—Marilynne Robinson. There’s this unassuming quietude to it that builds into a force of authority over the course of the novel. Ng crafts a story about a free-spirited artist named Mia who moves into a ritzy progressive suburban neighborhood in Shaker Heights with her daughter Pearl, renting from the Richardsons, an affluent, educated family whose three children become entranced by their new tenants. The Richardson matriarch, Elena Richardson, has reservations about the pair. This lingering skepticism becomes exacerbated by a bitter legal custody battle for a Chinese baby, whose birth mother left her at a fire station but now wants to take her back as she is being fostered by Elena’s best friend.

Ng writes in an omniscient third person point-of-view that allocates each character a even slice of book. And while no one character dominates the narrative, we get to see them each so fully.  The novel as a whole forces the reader to think about race, class, and privilege, yes—but never in a heavy-handed way. It’s a book about women who aren’t bound by the constrictions of the Strong Female Character. The women often have strong feelings and attitudes about what motherhood means, but they’re allowed to make mistakes and say the wrong things. Elena Richardson is prying and haughty, but strong-willed and protective. Lexie is vain and selfish, but cunning and decisive. Mia is gentle and kind, but not completely innocent from questionable decisions.

The novel also unfolds in a smart and satisfying way. Ng develops dramatic tension so masterfully. It’s not hard to see how this book is becoming a television show. Each chapter felt like an episode of something like This Is Us, with the same emotional deft and knack for twists and turns.

Little Fires Everywhere is a deeply empathetic novel that asks its characters not who do you represent, but instead, who are you? This question guides the reader throughout the book and fuels the flame which quietly, but persistently demands their attention.

 

 

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time reminded me of a kid-friendly absurdist David Lynch project with less fragile female characters. Lauded for directing 13th and Selma, Ava DuVernay is truly a visionary in the world of contemporary cinema. She illuminates the issue of racial inequality with nuance and panache. It comes as a surprise then, that her debut Disney project, an adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s psychedelic children’s book, received mostly negative reviews. A Wrinkle in Time has been called an ambitious project that didn’t quite land. Watching A Wrinkle in Time, I definitely discerned some of the issues that critics have pointed out. To me, many of the performances in the film felt a tad stilted, maybe even hamfisted at times. Calvin, Charles Wallace, and Meg’s father all verged on the edge of inadvertent comedic earnestness. Sorry, Chris Pine.

That said, I did enjoy this film a lot. Aesthetically, the visuals are gorgeous. DuVernay knows how to use colors and angles to tell a story through the medium of film. The film consists of bright, cheerful hues that elevate this sense of fierce optimism throughout its narrative. There’s a lovely scene where the Misses take Charles Wallace, Meg, and Calvin to the planet Uriel. Reese Witherspoon, who plays Mrs. Whatsit, frolics through a verdant field of vibrant flowers and let the children climb upon her back when she transforms into a plant creature. Simply gorgeous.

I also loved watching Storm Reid’s performance as the main character. Meg is an introspective, curious heroine that we seldom see in children’s movies. Meg’s little brother Charles Wallace convinces her to team up with the Misses to go search for their father, a missing astrophysicist. The children learn that their father is trapped on a planet that’s home to a foreboding presence called the IT. In addition to finding their father, they’ll also have to overcome the IT. To me, it’s refreshing that Meg isn’t a blindingly guileless, spunky heroine. She’s pretty far from a ray of sunshine. She’s complicated, rich, acting with caution and suspicion. She refuses to settle for less than what she believes is right, and this plays a pretty crucial part in the climax of the film.

While A Wrinkle of Time might have not entirely gelled together, it’s still a film worth watching, especially if you have or know little children who could benefit from its fearless vision of hope in the face of evil.