Welcome to the Cafe with Michelle (CWM) Book Club! Discussing current reads (even if the books are not “new releases”).
One late night scrolling through Instagram, I came across the promo video for a new series on Hulu; Little Fires Everywhere and was intrigued. With it featuring two of the best, Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington I knew I had to add it to my watch list, until I realized it was a book! So there I was, a newborn asleep on my chest and a Kindle in one hand trying to finish the book before watching the show.
The book follows two families living in the progressive neighborhood of Shaker Heights, Ohio. The first being a beloved suburban family living a picture perfect life with an intelligent and privileged mother of four, Elena, who sees true success to mean balancing a nuclear family and a career. The second being that of a single mother and artist, Mia, with a teenage daughter living a life out of the norm. Both families’ lives get turned upside down when their paths cross. Does Elena’s privilege force her to see Mia as inferior for living a nomadic lifestyle or is the reality that these women are not meant to connect because they are controlled by their circumstances. The novel follows the complex social, class, and legal relationships between all the characters. As the reader you get to see bits and pieces of each character unfold with each new chapter and you begin to understand the complex web that surrounds Shaker Heights.
I knocked the book out in about a week-and-a-half (way longer than expected but with a newborn, a pandemic, and TikTok I could not focus for long periods of time) and immediately started the show afterwards. But ummmm…. What the f*ck? – Okay, so I know the book is rarely ever like the show/movie but wow this one takes the trophy! I can honestly say the Hulu miniseries did so much more for me than the book did.
LIKES: The show is beyond amazing! It has all the extra emotion and detail I missed from the book. Not only did they cast beautifully but they captured the time and place of the story perfectly. It truly feels like you understand what life in Shaker Heights is like. My favorite change from the book to the show was the depth that is given to Elena. In the book Elena is portrayed as your typical privileged white woman living in a suburban neighborhood who truly believes her actions stem from a good place. However, in the miniseries Elena is way more complex than that. She sets off to create a life that fits in with her family’s legacy and puts her wants and desires on the back burner to uphold the image of a perfect family; until the curtains are pulled back and the chaos that is her life starts to burn.
DISLIKES: With the show being so different than the book obviously there are extras that seem to throw off the essence of the characters. For one, the nomadic mother-daughter duo is never really described as being of color in the novel. This was not much of a problem as I had come across the book after seeing the preview to the show. I automatically read the book using Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington as the main characters. Not sure I would have had the same visual interpretation if I had read the book before the adaptation was released.
There were many more alterations that felt a little forced and confusing while watching the show after having read the book. Some of the characters were given somewhat different background stories that to some degree changed the story line and made me, the book reader, change my opinion on a character or situation. My least favorite change was that of a character’s sexual orientation, which was not once discussed in the novel. In the book the character, Izzy, is portrayed as the family’s black sheep who is constantly rebelling against her mother’s picture-perfect lifestyle. The tension between Izzy and her mother, Elena, grows with each new episode and takes unexpected turns until it crashes and burns (fire pun intended haha).
Overall, this is a very enjoyable book and miniseries. Little Fires Everywhere shows a particular place and time that makes us reflect on the limits of our own views and allows us to consider the spiderwebs of connection, conflict, privilege, and exclusion that we, too, can create.