The Next Chapter

If you liked Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere, you'll love...

The Next Chapter columnist Victor Dwyer reveals why Angel Falls by Tim Wynveen is the perfect Canadian companion to Celeste Ng's bestseller.
If you enjoyed Little Fires Everywhere, Victor Dwyer believes you should give Angel Falls a chance. (Penguin Press/Key Porter Books)

Readers and reviewers loved Celeste Ng's novel Little Fires Everywhere, which combined a page-turning plot with perceptive comments on privilege and race in America. The Next Chapter columnist Victor Dwyer has scoured Canadian bookshelves to find its match, and has come up with Angel Falls by Tim Wynveen.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

"The book is set in Shaker Heights, an extremely controlled community. In fact it's motto is: 'Most communities just happened; the best are planned.' Its main character is Elena Richardson. She lives in a McMansion and has four children. She's upper-middle class— four cars, two properties. This town prides itself on its tight, stringent liberal values that everyone is equal. Everything is calm and planned. There are no surprises until this woman named Mia, this freethinking woman, blows into town with her daughter and no husband. Mia's motto is: 'Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground and start over.' She begins turning up the heat, particularly on Mrs. Richardson. They lock horns on a couple of big issues. A lot of it is these two women and their alternate views on the world and the book opens with little fires everywhere in Mrs. Richardson's lovely big house. 

"Mia is working class. She does some cleaning for the Richardsons. She also works in this diner with this woman who's even lower on the social order than Mia, a woman named Bebe. She's Asian and her English is not good. A year before the novel starts, Bebe had abandoned her baby at a firehouse. She was poor and distraught. She was unable to communicate with anyone and couldn't even remember where she left the baby. A friend of Mrs. Richardson's has provisionally adopted the child and the adoption is about to come to fruition when Mia discovers her coworker is the mother of this little baby. Bebe wants her baby back. That's a big plot propeller and as Mrs. Richardson gets revenge on Mia for setting in motion the adoption being blocked, she also discovers some secrets about Mia. The overarching issue is one of motherhood — what is a mother? Who gets to be a mother?"

Angel Falls by Tim Wynveen

"Angel Falls came out in 1997. At the time, it won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for best first book. It made a big splash and then after writing a couple of other books, Tim kind of moved on with his life and didn't remain a novelist. Angel Falls is a book that's always stayed with me. I just love this read. I find it quite compulsive. It's the story not of a mother and daughter blowing into town in Ohio, but a mother and her teenage son blowing into town in northern Ontario. [The protagonist] is teenager Benoni Van Buskierke and, as he says, they come into this town of Angel Falls, Ontario dragging 'our grief north with us.' His father has just died.

"It's a dark and brooding book. Like Little Fires Everywhere, Angel Falls is crafted as a mystery. It opens with the adult Benoni announcing that he's finally pieced together the events that made his mother go mad... It's about the vast emotional tug of parentage and what that tug often forces people to do, despite their stated values of caring for everyone and being liberal and open minded.   

"Like Little Fires Everywhere, Angel Falls explores how parents and children will hide secrets from each other. And in some ways, what will break children until they say, 'You know what? No more family. I've got to move on from this.' One other thing I don't want to forget is that there are seven fires in Angel Falls, there are little fires everywhere. Three are quite big plot propellers and four are propellers that move things along in little ways."

Victory Dwyer's comments have been edited for length and clarity.