(posted by Evan)
Thoughts on Chs. 8 - 11
Mothers. Izzy wants Mia to be her mother. Mia seems to understand Izzy better than Elena, but this notion that ‘what makes a mother’ could or should depend on the emotional relationship between them is challenged in a big way with the blood vs. law mother-battle of May Ling’s custody between Bebe Chow and The McCulloughs. Izzy is adamant about who May Ling belongs to "She's the mom. They're not." Meanwhile, she fantasizes about being able to adopt a mother. To the credit of her consistency, though, she does imagine a Midnight's Children switch-a-roo type thing. Get real, kid, remember all the trouble you caused by being born?
The Mystery. The photograph in the museum sets off a mystery that could have been avoided (at least for Pearl) if she had asked her mom in private, if she had not asked Lexie and Moody to go back with her, if it had not been Lexie who asked Mia. Well that’s a bonified mystery there, anyway. What is it that she dosen’t want to say in front of the Richardson’s? It dosen’t make any sense that she is bashful about hard times and needing cash based on her unabashed scrap-by lifestyle. It makes a lot more sense that she is an artist and was doing art but what is the big mystery?
So who is Pauline Hawthorne? She’s made up; but she was Cindy Sherman before Cindy Sherman was Cindy Sherman, and it turns out… Cindy Sherman is real. From Guggenheim.org …
Sherman explored photography as a way to reveal and examine the cultural constructions we designate as truth. Confronting the belief that photographs are truthful documents, Sherman’s fictional narratives suggested that photographs, like all forms of representation, are ideologically motivated. She is aware that the camera is not a neutral device but rather a tool that frames a particular viewpoint.
Sherman’s reputation was established early on with her Untitled Film Stills, a series of 69 black-and-white photographs that she began making in 1977, when she was twenty-three. In this series, the artist depicted herself dressed in the various melodramatic guises of clichéd B-movie heroines presented in 8 x 10 publicity stills from the 1950s and 1960s.
More Mothers. So, Elena hates Izzy because she was a complicated birth… what a control freak. Very hyprocritical in light of her sympathy for Linda “Seven-Miscarriages” McCullough, huh? I really like that Ng shows how Elena’s scrutiny based on fears and suspicions ends up convincing her that there is something wrong with Izzy. Confirmation Bias ---> Cognitive Dissonance. What’s really wrong with her, apparently, is she is a lot like her mother: they both show this enthusiasm for investigative journalism (as does Pearl) and Mr. Richardson sees the same dead-set frame-of-mindedness in them both.
The Custody Case (Mothers again). I’m not going to go there… yet. I’ll admit that I chose the side of Bebe in a parenthetical last week, but that was really just because “May Ling Chow” was easier to type than “Mirabelle McCullough”, which also required me to look up the correct spelling. I’ve talked to my wife, who has experience in these sorts of situations (professionally, not personally!) but I’m going to hold off on explaining what she convinced me of for a bit. I want to know what you all think about it. Maybe I will post a post-Beerhive rant after I’ve had a few and DGAF.
Pop Culture. So it turns out most of the stuff on the celesteng.com Book Club thingy is also in the back of the book. But this isn’t!
I think it is interesting that Celeste Ng has two scientist parents and she ended up being a writer, who writes about artists. From Wikipedia..
Ng was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1980. Her parents moved to the US from Hong Kong in the late 1960s. Her father, who died in 2004, was a physicist who worked for NASA at the Glenn Research Center, while her mother was a chemist who taught at Cleveland State University..
She wrote this short anecdote about her mother in New York Times Magazine:
What Did My Mother the Chemist See in Betty Crocker?
If I ever have kids they damn sure better be physicists! or at least know how to make some really good food.
(Posted by Evan)
Thoughts on Chs. 1 - 7 of Little Fires Everywhere.
Izzy is almost a non-character so far, even though she’s presumably important. Based on what you know now, how to you predict Izzy will come into the story? Did she start the fire? (hat tip: Sean). Where is she? Did she leave with Mia and Pearl? Sean points out that Moody hesitates when asked about his alibi,
"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."
But it also says,
"No one thought about the recent departure of Mia and Pearl from the house on Winslow Road. ... Moody had discovered their absence only earlier that morning, and was still unsure what to make of it."
So I think maybe the hesitation was butthurt because Pearl didn't say goodbye. Why did Mia and Pearl decide not to finally stay put as Mia promised Pearl they would? What is the significance of the custody case of May Ling Chow? (I chose my side!!!) Obviously, Mother/Daughter relationships are a theme.
Would you buy one of Mia’s art works? Which one? She's got a thing for animals.
There is great contrast between the order of Shaker Heights and the permanence of The Richardson's residence (even after the fire) versus the chaos of Mia's work life and their transient lifestyle. Particularly, striking its that the Richardson's generate the kind of waste and giveaways that become the furniture and tools of the scrappy Warren's. The contrast of the "perfect family" with their Jerry Springer obsession is a good one too.
I love the pop culture references circa 1997 - I mean, Jerry Spinger? I had forgotten all about that. TLC, Mace, Puffy Daddy, Notorious B.I.G. Scream masks at Halloween party. I've felt that that was the end of time for pop culture. Just before MTV went full on reality TV and the teen pop megalith of Britney, BSB, N'sync. And just before the internet changed that hole record company dominated landscape. The freshman on campus wear Nirvana and Offspring ("Smash") shirts! They were deprived of a culture of their own, because it dissolved into The Long Tail. But most of that culture was programmed into us anyway, so who had it better?
Some stuff from the celesteng.com Book Club thing:
A few of the discussion questions that I think are relevant so far:
1.Shaker Heights is almost another character in the novel. Do you believe that “the best communities are planned”? Why or why not?
7. 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?
10. 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?
Excerpt from Celest Ng letter to readers:
(she does NOT acknowledge that she started with a story known as The Scarlett Letter) :
"...When I first began Little Fires Everywhere, I knew wanted to write about my beloved hometown of Shaker Heights, Ohio. I started with a story about troubled families—the wealthy Richardsons and their complicated family dynamics, mysterious Mia and her daughter, and the secrets they all carry with them—and set the story in my hometown.
Shaker Heights, I realized, is full of fascinating contradictions. It’s a wealthy, highly regulated city—one of the first planned communities in the U.S.—and the belief in planning is so strong that the city even planned for diversity in everything from the appearance of its houses to the racial makeup of its population. It was founded on utopian principles and even today brims with idealism and a sense of exceptionalism. And despite all this, of course, Shaker Heights still struggles with the same race and class issues as the rest of the nation.
Like many places in our country, Shaker Heights is full of idealistic, altruistic people—of all races—who are good at heart and sincerely want to do the right thing. Yet when personally affected by the issues, even idealists often end up making selfish choices with far-reaching effects. It’s human nature, yet I wanted to explore how—and how often—we justify it to ourselves when we cross moral lines. Where do we follow the rules, and where do we justify breaking them? Do our pasts determine what we deserve in the future? And is it ever possible to leave your past behind? These are some of the questions I hope the novel raises..."
Photos of Shaker Heights: (love that Jim Morrison mural!)