Yesterday I wrote about the words between. About how we fill in the blanks while reading. Tonight I want to write about the threads we choose to follow. I bring this up because on one of the Facebook book groups I’m in someone brought up Shakers and how they were looking for fiction that mentioned them. I immediately thought of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere which includes a brief history of the Shaker movement and their migration to Ohio. On top of that the story is littered with metaphorical references to the Shakers.
I don’t know if the person that wanted to argue with me about that missed that part of the story, didn’t pay attention to it, or choose not to follow that thread. Or if they just didn’t know. My building of the metaphorical story comes from some of the back knowledge I have. As I said yesterday a book can’t help but be different for a different person. Books are even different for us as we change throughout or lifetimes.
When I read Little Fires Everywhere I followed the Shaker thread. I took the name Shaker Heights to be of metaphorical importance to the story. One of the main plot lines of the story is the custody battle between an adoptive rich white mother and the Asian biological mother. In the end the adoptive white mother wins because the trial was held in her backyard, she is such a good person for no other reason than she is a rich white woman, and she currently has possession of the baby.
It is an interact story added to by the Shaker backstory and things like the prosperity gospel and the puritanical belief in pre-destination, that those who will be rewarded in the afterlife are rewarded in this one as well so that wealth ends up equalling goodness.
All this backstory and sub-plots and metaphors led me down the road of saying of course this book has to do with the Shakers. What would it be without those themes? But then I forget that not everyone follows the same threads. I certainly didn’t when I reread The Great Gatsby. The book didn’t change, but I did and because of that how I read it changed. There is so much that goes into the how of our reading that it is almost impossible to predict how someone else will do it or what story they will see when handed a book.