Forums Club Ed Book Club Little Fires Everywhere discussion

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    • #110502
      Jennifer Lawler
      Keymaster

      Sorry, all, went down the editing rabbit hole. Who’s with me today?

    • #110503
      Jake Nicholls
      Participant

      Hello, I’m here!

      • #110505
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Hi, Jake! Thanks for being here and for being patient!

      • #110506
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        That’s ok! I think Joan was around in the other thread a little while ago, hopefully she’ll find her way here, too.

      • #110519
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Oh, thanks for the info, I went over there and told her where to join us.

      • #110523
        Mary Lanham
        Participant

        Hello!

      • #110525
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        Hi Mary, nice to see you!

    • #110504
      Jennifer Lawler
      Keymaster

      What was your overall reaction to the book?

      • #110518
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        I enjoyed some aspects of it, but I found the narration style quite distancing and this led to feeling like the characters were a bit shallow/one-dimensional. Plus, although initially I enjoyed the different plot ‘strands’, by the end I felt like I was being beaten over the head with the themes!

    • #110520
      Jennifer Lawler
      Keymaster

      Yes, I found the omniscient narrator approach distancing. I mean, I didn’t feel jerked around by it–it wasn’t head-hopping exactly, where I felt disoriented. It was more that I felt everything was too distant and superficial.

      • #110522
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        I found the central chapters about Mia’s time in New York to be the most engaging, and I think that’s just because we stayed mostly in her point of view for that time. I think a big problem throughout was that the author had a tendency to use the omniscient narration to explicitly spell out the character’s feelings and why they were feeling that way, so there was no room left for the reader to do any interpretation.

      • #110524
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Yes, for me the main problem was “show v tell.” We’re told in the exposition: “Literally was one of Lexie’s favorite words.” Well, why not just show her using it?

        “True to form, Trip noticed nothing wrong.” > again, why not show this?

        And “There were many rules” followed by seven pages of HOA rules. I paged ahead a lot.

      • #110526
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        There’s a section early on where we’re told that Mrs. Richardson “wanted to feel that she was doing good.” And then we get a long discourse on how her parents had brought her up to do good with seventeen examples.

        The absolutely best moment of characterization in this section is when Mrs. Richardson says, “But you’ll be renting so of course you get all the benefits with none of the burden.” THAT IS IT!!! Perfection. But buried in the muck.

      • #110530
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        Yes, exactly. A lot of the time it seemed that the narrator was interpreting the character’s actions/feelings for the reader, i.e. not just explaining how the character understood themself to be feeling but also almost psychoanalysing them for the reader’s benefit, if that makes sense!

      • #110531
        Mary Lanham
        Participant

        Yes, I loved that line!

      • #110529
        Mary Lanham
        Participant

        The omniscient narration does give the book an old-fashioned feel, which I could appreciate as being part of the theme about the conservative ethos of Shaker Heights (despite its idealist roots). But I also felt the book leaned too hard in that direction, leaving us a bit alienated. I wonder if trimming some characters would have helped that, so we could have had an in-depth look at each of them like we got for Mia in the flashback section.

      • #110532
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        That’s an interesting point—the narration does give a certain atmosphere that might have been difficult to evoke using another point of view. And I agree that fewer characters may have been a lot more effective.

      • #110545
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Yes, I feel like once the author started the story with all those characters she ended up having to make up things for them to do, like using poor Pearl. I didn’t think there were too many characters per se but I didn’t think they all needed as much page time as they had. In the end, I felt like characters we should have spent more time with (like Izzy) suffered as a result.

      • #110543
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Mary, I agree. Right at the end of the first chapter (I think it’s the first chapter) the author concludes with “No one thought about the recent departure of Mia and Pearl.” Cue the DUH duh DUHH
        music.

        As I mentioned above, I didn’t think it was disorienting (like head-hopping) but wow it was heavy-handed.

    • #110521
      Jennifer Lawler
      Keymaster

      And yes, “News alert: wealthy people exploit others!” was a little . . . one-note.

    • #110527
      Joan Graham
      Participant

      got here. Thanks. Joan

    • #110533
      Joan Graham
      Participant

      I was looking forward to reading it after seeing four pages of glowing reviews. The narration has really made me not enjoy it and I’ve only managed about 30 or so pages so far.Also not sure knowing right from the beginning that the house burned down and Mia and Pearl moved is helping me like the book.

      • #110546
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Joan, I agree. I wondered about that myself. Why not let the story unfold? We’ll get to the fires when we get to them.

      • #110549
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        I think there was a missed opportunity with starting the story there—it could have been a great source of tension, but the fact that all the characters immediately knew it was Izzy who had started the fire and that they weren’t surprised (i.e. that it didn’t seem out of character for Izzy to do something like that) meant that there was nowhere to go and no questions posed for the reader.

      • #110551
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Agreed, Jake. There could/should have at least been a question about who did it. But they know she did it and she did it, so . . . where does it go? The author has just sucked out all the tension about what will happen at the end. Izzy will set some fires and run away. We knew that at the beginning.

      • #110547
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        I was also pretty disappointed and found it a slog in parts. I wanted to like it more than I did.

      • #110562
        Mary Lanham
        Participant

        I’m really curious if the TV adaptation that just came out also spills the beans about Izzy right away, or if they’ve reworked the story into more of a mystery. Has anyone watched any episodes of it?

        I actually cruised through the book really quickly and enjoyed it as a read, but I think I was anticipating that we’d get a lot more character development before the end, and then… it was just over, with no additional revelations. So I can’t say I disliked the book per se, but I definitely wanted more out of it in the end.

      • #110564
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Mary, I agree. There were certainly parts I thought were well-written and I enjoyed reading and I didn’t throw it against the wall but I wanted more from it. I haven’t seen the TV series but am curious how it compares.

      • #110567
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        I was reading about the adaptation this morning, actually, and they changed the ending! (Spoiler alert for anyone who wants to watch it.) Apparently, they have Izzy try to start a fire but she is interrupted by her mother, they argue, and Izzy leaves. The other children witness the argument and are shocked at their mother’s treatment of Izzy, so decide to start the fires themselves, all together…

      • #110575
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Thanks for the info, Jake. I’m just . . . that’s not what I would have done. There’s a lot of potential for making this a fine, dramatic story but that’s not it.

      • #110577
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        And the one thing the story gets right is the disconnect between the kind of parenting Mrs. Richardson gives to Izzy and the kind she needs but I don’t see Mrs. Richardson mistreating Izzy. I mean, not in that way.

      • #110578
        Jacque Hamilton
        Participant

        If more growth is shown for all the characters, it might work…

      • #110590
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Hi, Jacque! Welcome to the conversation. You mean, if the Richardson children all became more aware of their privilege and entitlement?

      • #110593
        Jacque Hamilton
        Participant

        Well, more if Mia got into each of their heads for certain reasons. It felt like there was really only one little fire started, and it was within Izzy.

      • #110596
        Jacque Hamilton
        Participant

        And really, the fire was already there, a grown up just gave her permission to fan the flames. If Mia could inspire each of them to be different than the cliche 90’s kids they were, then the TV ending may work. It’d be a long haul…

      • #110607
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Oh, I see, Jacque! Yes, great point.

      • #110591
        Jacque Hamilton
        Participant

        I take back my earlier comment and agree with Jennifer after some thought.

      • #110600
        Mary Lanham
        Participant

        Huh. Yeah. That change would not ever have occurred to me.

        Jake, do you know if the Mirabelle / May Ling plot line is still in the show? In the book, it really plays much more of a role than the fire, but from what I could tell it seems to be cut from the show. (Sorry if this is derailing the discussion, I’m just always fascinated by how adaptations make different storytelling decisions. Kind of like getting to see a possible revision of the book.)

      • #110601
        Jacque Hamilton
        Participant

        That would be interesting. I guess Mia inspired May Ling’s biological mom to do something, but she had nothing to do with the Richardson children. Not directly.

      • #110610
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        I think I saw something in the trailer that suggested that plot line is still in the show, although how prominently I don’t know. I’ll see if I can look it up.

        I’m obsessed with adaptations, too! I find the translation of storytelling aspects into different mediums really fascinating, and it can be really useful for working out what the strengths and weaknesses of each medium are.

      • #110626
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        I took a class on this long ago, and it was so fascinating to see different ways stories can be told from one medium to another. And a challenge is that people think they can adapt methods of one medium to another but this doesn’t work so well. A novel is not a movie is not a comic book is not a stage play.

        I was about to insert a comment about LOTR but decided that would derail the discussion.

      • #110633
        Mary Lanham
        Participant

        LOTR! Yes, that would be a derail for sure

      • #110636
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        Oh, I have so many thoughts about LOTR! 🙂

    • #110544
      Joan Graham
      Participant

      Shaker Heights was really a character in the book.

      • #110548
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Yes, one thing I liked about this story was that it could only take place in a certain kind of community. Maybe not only Shaker Heights, but certainly not an Anywhere.

      • #110598
        Jacque Hamilton
        Participant

        It felt very 50s-ish. Maybe I was swayed because of the commercials for the show and the way Mrs. Richardson behaves.

      • #110602
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        Yes—something about the time period felt off to me, because we had all these references to 90s phones and internet modems and the Clinton scandal and everything, but rather than grounding the story in the 90s, these seemed to jar with the atmosphere. Whether that was intentional or not, I don’t know—perhaps to give the impression of Shaker Heights being in its own bubble?

      • #110611
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        The time period, like the characters’ ages, felt inconsistent to me as well. I felt like it was a good thing the author told us it took place in 1997 because otherwise I would never have known.

      • #110625
        Jacque Hamilton
        Participant

        Yes, especially in the beginning. At first it felt like the present, then the 50s, then cliched 90s, and so on. Growing up a kid int he 90s, I can say I didn’t think the way Pearl does. Do you think if one time setting issue was addressed, their ages would be too? I’m not sure. I wasn’t allowed to run around like those kids did, but some of my friends were.

    • #110550
      Jennifer Lawler
      Keymaster

      I felt the characterization was a little off, maybe because of the style of narration. When Lexie is first mentioned we’re told she’s at a sleepover, which says eight years old to me and I had to do a lot of recalculating when her boyfriend was mentioned. And even then I wasn’t sure. Boyfriend boyfriend or elementary school boyfriend?

      And later Lexie is attributed with a thought that “it was a problem for adults, not for them.” When I was a senior I absolutely thought I was an adult! I might have thought it was a problem for my parents, but not for that separate alien group called adults. I was one! (I was sure of it.)

      • #110566
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        Yes, I didn’t really get a solid sense of the kids’ ages—I’m still not sure, actually! I was very surprised when Lexie was thinking about the possibility of having a baby and it was revealed that she and Brian were both 18 years old. I think it does feed back to lack of character depth/complexity: each of the children came across to me as quite cliched—e.g. the sporty one, the sensitive one, the fashionable one, the rebel…

      • #110568
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Yes, I’m still not sure I know how old Pearl was. She becomes friends with Moody, who rides his bike everywhere so not old enough to drive so I was thinking early teens but then she’s friends with Lexie, who’s older, and she has a crush on Trip . . . so I don’t know. The thing is, kids are really different at different ages. The difference between me at ten and thirteen and sixteen . . . You would have known how old I was just by what I was thinking about, talking about, and doing.

      • #110573
        Mary Lanham
        Participant

        Pearl and Moody are supposed to be 15, based on one line buried somewhere in the book. But at times they both seemed either older or younger then that to me. Moody especially seemed more like a young 14, which is kind of splitting hairs, but as Jennifer said, single years make a huge difference for teen characters.

      • #110592
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Ah, thanks for clearing that up, Mary. Yes, I think Moody in particular seems younger.

      • #110570
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Jake, the cliched kids aspect – that makes me think if the author had trimmed down the number of characters it might have helped her move past cliches because then each kid wouldn’t have to be in their own silo for us to remember who they are. So I’m coming over to your way of thinking about trimming the number of characters back.

      • #110574
        Jacque Hamilton
        Participant

        With so many characters and not getting deep enough, I felt there was a lack of growth on all of the characters. I expected so much more of Izzy and Pearl, but after the abortion, I expected more of Lexie. The family adopting Mirabelle didn’t seems to learn anything, either.

      • #110576
        Mary Lanham
        Participant

        Yeah, I thought it would be been really interesting to see Izzy filling the role of both wannabe rebel and cool kid. Or rebel and sensitive one.

      • #110609
        Jacque Hamilton
        Participant

        I would have liked to see her much more as well.

    • #110552
      Joan Graham
      Participant

      I thought when the kids were sitting on top of the car watching the fire scene they were not too concerned about all their worldly possessions being gone as well as their home.

      • #110563
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Right! I am perhaps a little more sanguine now than I was but I would still be upset. When I was seventeen, if everything I owned including my favorite shoes and all my books and the little ceramic dog my boyfriend gave me went up in smoke, I wouldn’t just be sitting there watching it burn.

      • #110569
        Mary Lanham
        Participant

        Yeah, that detail contributed to my feeling that there was Something Else going on that would come out by the end of the book. But I guess the idea is just that they’re so rich they can’t conceive of losing their stuff being a problem. Gotta say though that I grew up with a lot of rich kids and that’s… not how the scene would have gone.

      • #110595
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Mary, right? I don’t think having a lot of possessions makes you less attached to possessions.

    • #110565
      Jacque Hamilton
      Participant

      Hi, I’m super late, if anyone is still on. AZ doesn’t do daylight savings, so I forgot all about the time change!

    • #110571
      Jacque Hamilton
      Participant

      It felt as if all the characters were a little suppressed. Decisions were made casually and emotions were all a bit dulled down. It could have to do with the style of narration, as mentioned above (by Jake I think), where the narrator is analyzing the characters for the readers.

      • #110597
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Yes, the overanalysis disrupts any direct connection we might have with the characters. It does kind of contribute to the sense that we’re doing a sociological study. Maybe that was the author’s intention? I don’t know. It didn’t work for me.

      • #110599
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        Hi, Jacque. Yes, I agree, and I think it goes back to what Jennifer was saying about ‘show v tell’—telling the reader that something is a difficult decision for the character doesn’t make it feel difficult to the reader if there’s no emotional connection there.

      • #110606
        Jacque Hamilton
        Participant

        Jennifer-maybe it was. It didn’t work for me, either.
        Hi, Jake. Yes! There was no connection.

    • #110572
      Joan Graham
      Participant

      Sorry, am I having a technical problem or have people stopped posting –not getting anything anymore.

      • #110582
        Mary Lanham
        Participant

        We’re still here! Maybe your browser is just being slow to refresh the page?

      • #110594
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        Hi, Joan. Are you seeing any more posts now? A lot of them appear further up the page because they are replies to previous posts. You might have to refresh your page every now and then to see the latest ones.

    • #110603
      Jennifer Lawler
      Keymaster

      I was game for a nuanced discussion of what is parenting, who is a mother, who is entitled to be a mother, etc., but I felt like we had types yanked in for discussion: there are the biological childen, there is the adopted child, there is the child of a surrogate, there is an abortion . . . “Let’s discuss, children,” you know?

      • #110608
        Jacque Hamilton
        Participant

        Yes! It was beat over the head. and I feel like the judge’s decision was expected.

      • #110621
        Mary Lanham
        Participant

        Yeah, I think the adoption plot was an example of when an author may be telling the story realistically, but it doesn’t feel compelling to readers. It’s probably accurate that the hearings would have gone that way in the mid 90s, and that the adoptive parents would have felt justified in their attitudes, etc. But to current readers the plot can feel like it’s pushing too hard on an expected theme.

      • #110623
        Jacque Hamilton
        Participant

        Mary, do you think it’s not compelling because we’re looking at it from the outside? The narrator sticks pretty closely the the Richardsons and Warrens, so it almost like secondhand knowledge.

      • #110627
        Mary Lanham
        Participant

        I’d agree with that, yeah. I actually was really intrigued by the brief glimpses we got of Bill Richardson and Bebe’s lawyer, and how they were navigating trying to win the case while dealing with the emotional baggage. So… maybe I wanted a book about the adoption story, and another book about the rest of it? With an actual surprise about the fire? Maybe I didn’t like this book as much as I thought…

      • #110630
        Jacque Hamilton
        Participant

        That’s how I felt. Bill’s and Bebe’s lawyer had more emotional tension than just about anyone else. They were all set in their ways, not willing to budge. It would have been nice to have a deeper dive into the adoption story.

      • #110638
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        LOL, Mary, these discussions always make me wonder if I like what I’ve read as well as I thought I did.

      • #110654
        Jacque Hamilton
        Participant

        Same here, haha!

    • #110604
      Joan Graham
      Participant

      Thanks! OK now.

    • #110622
      Jacque Hamilton
      Participant

      I’m noticing this trend lately, where the author takes an omniscient POV with lots of head-hopping. I’m wondering if these become TV shows and movies because they’re more easily adapted. I’m also curious if this is a trend we should be aware of. Ng’s transitions were smooth, even if they were more distanced. It seems to me a lack of connectedness, and is it art imitating life, or vice versa?

      • #110629
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        Omniscient POV seems to go in and out of fashion—maybe it’s coming back in now! It can work really effectively when it’s done well, and I think the issue with Little Fires Everywhere is one of lack of narrative depth rather than the omniscient POV itself.

        As for the link with screen adaptations, that’s a very interesting point—I’ll have to have a think about that!

      • #110639
        Jacque Hamilton
        Participant

        It can be effective, and there are places where it works great.

        I guess what I’m noticing is that the omniscient POV is carrying, or maybe an excuse for, that lack of depth. Connectedness in the US is a huge issue among young adults and adolescents. We have these bestsellers that we’ve seen with these issues of perspective and depth. It’d be interesting to know if it’s a reflection of our culture or perpetuating it in media. Because if the best sellers have these issues, and they are more easily adapted, they get more attention.

      • #110631
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        It comes and goes. Twenty years ago omniscient narration was everywhere, then it pretty much vanished for a while, now it’s re-emerging. I don’t think it’s a problem per se when it’s done well–I mean, in this case, I didn’t feel like we were head-hopping, being jerked from character to character; it was handled pretty well. It’s just that it created such a sense of distance from the characters.

        I do think omniscient POV is much easier to adapt to screen then deep third or first.

      • #110632
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Or maybe it’s just that omniscient narration is how movie people think? So they see the possibilities more easily?

      • #110651
        Jacque Hamilton
        Participant

        That was kinda my guess…

    • #110637
      Jennifer Lawler
      Keymaster

      I have to get ready for a board meeting so I am going to wander off, but please do continue discussing without me if you have more to say.

      I am going to be moving in June and think I may be on the road June 3 when we would normally have the next meeting. If we skip next month, that would mean the next meeting would be July 1. This is not a problem for me but it may be for others because of the US holiday.

      Should we meet again in August? Or could someone take over for the June conversation so we don’t lose momentum? And how do we feel about a July meeting?

      • #110649
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        If there are people interested, I’d be up for a June meeting—I’m sure we’d be able to sort out a discussion between us.

        July 1 is fine for me, too!

      • #110653
        Jacque Hamilton
        Participant

        So far a June meeting works for me. July is too far away to know!

      • #110656
        Mary Lanham
        Participant

        Up for both June and July!

    • #110650
      Joan Graham
      Participant

      July 1st is fine for me.

    • #110652
      Joan Graham
      Participant

      Or June.

    • #110655
      Joan Graham
      Participant

      So shall we try for June? What book?

    • #110657
      Jennifer Lawler
      Keymaster

      Okay, great! Let’s do a June 3 meeting and a July 1 meeting and I’ll figure out what the July 1 book will be soon. The June 3 book is Marlon James’s BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF and it’s supposed to be a very good SFF novel and I thought it would be nice to change things up a bit.

      Jake, since you are always here for book club (thank you) would you mind being the designated person to start the thread on June 3 without me? I’ll try to check in but as I said I may be on the road so don’t want to count on being able to do so. I’ll email you the July pick so you can post it then, too.

      Okay! Carry on!

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