It’s overcast but quite mild outside, and I’m planning to go for a long-ish walk once I finish this post. I’m starting a bit late, as I was busy cooking and baking this morning, which also meant a lengthy clean-up, but now it’s done and I can settle down to a steaming cup of chai, a delicious Date Bar, and a slice of freshly baked Date Bread. Mmmm… a deliciously "normal" way to begin yet another strange week...
My Volunteer Book Club had our first ever Zoom meeting yesterday, and I’d say it was a success, despite a challenging start. We discussed Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I had listened to Ng's first book, Everything I Never Told You, and was somewhat disappointed, as I expected more from a novel that was so heavily promoted and so well-reviewed. This meant that I had middling expectations for this one, so I was pleasantly surprised to find myself immediately gripped by the complex web of stories. This novel takes place in Shaker Heights, Ohio in the late 1990s, and follows the interactions of two families, the Richardsons and the Warrens, over the course of a year and a half. The Richardsons are a well-to-do family who have lived in Shaker Heights, the first planned community in the US, for generations. Mrs Richardson is a journalist for the local paper and Mr Richardson is a lawyer. They have four teenaged children who are on the straight and narrow path to college and a wonderfully planned future of marriage and family, just like their parents. Then single mother Mia Warren and her beautiful daughter Pearl move into the Richardsons’ vacant rental unit, a duplex that is designed to look like a single-family house, and things begin to go awry. Mia is a photographer who has always relocated once one of her projects is completed. But this time, she promised Pearl that they would stay, that this would be “home”. Pearl is enchanted by the Richardsons, with all that they represent: permanency, stability, wealth, goals and connections. The Richardson kids, on the other hand, envy Pearl’s freedom and her close relationship with her mother. Situations arise involving the teens and the parents, as well as other members of the community, until all hell breaks loose and the very foundations of Shaker Heights are shaken to the point of near-destruction. I loved the book, almost from the very first page, but of the three other members at the meeting, one said she didn’t really get interested until about three-quarters of the way into the book, and another said she felt the same, but became interested near the half-way point. Their main complaint was that too much of the story centred around the teens, which they found less interesting than the storylines involving the adults. Those complex plots, though, gave us plenty to discuss. We talked about wealth and status, family and friendships, motherhood and surrogacy, and which would be more important in raising a child, money or love. One member said that this book was like getting a peek at what goes on behind closed doors: everything looks flawless on the outside, but once you open those doors, all the secrets and resentments, the personalities and pent-up feelings, come flying out and reveal themselves for all to see. One of my favourite lines, near the end of the book, is from Mia: “Most of the time, everyone deserves more than one chance. We all do things we regret now and then. You just have to carry them with you.” (p 250). I like to think we all deserve more than one chance, and that , by carrying these regrets around, we can learn to do better. Once things get back to normal, whenever that is, I will look for this book in the used book stores, as I’m sure I’d love to read it again sometime. Although not everyone loved this book, we had an interesting, lively and engaging discussion, and I would recommend this as an excellent book club selection.
That’s all for today. Get out and get some fresh air!
Bye for now… Julie