Lockdown and Little Fires Everywhere

What do the Covid 19 lockdown and ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ by Celeste Ng have in common? (Apart, of course, from the fact that the former gave us time to read the latter!)

Quite a lot — not the fires, except for the few that were sparked by last week’s unseasonal storms — but issues of materialism (or lack of), family function and dysfunction, trust, employment, creativity, justice, unselfishness and the determination not to judge a book by its cover — or a person by first impressions.

Mrs Richardson, a native and resident of Shaker Heights, Ohio, and an adherent to its rules for conformity, happiness and perfect living, is very wealthy, but overtly generous with it. She has an eye for doing the right thing, but when one of the flats she owns is rented out to Mia, an artist and unconventional single mum, and her teenage daughter Pearl, conformity is turned on its head. Mia is extraordinarily perceptive, as evidenced by her unique photographic art work.

When Mia gets to know the four teenage Richardson children, especially Izzy, who is interested in photography, and Pearl fraternises with them, welcomed into the Richardson home, each mum finds herself taking a child from the other family under her wing. But what do the two young people take away from the alternative family?

Lockdown has prompted many of us to awaken our creativity, whether it’s music, art, gardening, baking or writing. Without the rush to get to work, college or somewhere on time, we may have found ourselves standing at the door or gate and chatting with the neighbours we’d only seen briefly in passing. Did any of them challenge our suppositions? What about the guy who has baked cakes or made ice cream every day for four months and given a portion to whoever appeared with a plate? First come, first served, and no payment accepted.

Did the Richardson boys see in Pearl qualities of character missing in their other peers? How did Mia’s disregard for material goods impact Mrs Richardson?

As lockdown has continued, our realisation of what it means to us personally, our families, communities and entire nation has dawned bit by bit. Just as well, because a sudden understanding of it might have swamped us. Even if we didn’t catch the virus — praise be! — we couldn’t leave the house, go shopping, go out for a drink or dinner, to a gig, cinema, zoo, swim, gym, Edinburgh Festival… But much bigger issues, locally and nationally, are at stake than our boredom or inconvenience or even our loneliness.

Mrs Richardson has a friend who is in the process of adopting a Chinese baby, but when the real mother turns up and stakes her claim, both the Richardsons and Mia are involved for reasons that are far more than skin deep. Unresolved misunderstanding leads to gross injustice, and relationships are severed, but there is light at the end of the various tunnels.

As we peer through the lens of our own new normality, what can we take into the future? An awareness of issues faced by people around us? A new understanding of the use of time? A fresh set of priorities? Certainly gratitude for friends and family, health and strength and even for life itself.

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Novelist, avid reader, author of Reluctant Phoenix and others.

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Helen Parker

Helen Parker

Novelist, avid reader, author of Reluctant Phoenix and others.

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