Breakwater Books (2020)
Reviewed by Tammy Ruggles for Reader Views(12/2020)
“Approaching Fire,” by Michelle Porter, is a beautiful book about family history and acceptance. In lovely, poetic prose, the author takes her audience on a journey of family heritage and honest conversation about what it means to have to hide your identity-sometimes even your name-just to fit in and make your mark in the world. This memoir has the author searching her family tree for her great-grandfather, Leon Robert Goulet, noted Metis fiddler. I love how the book opens, with the narrator poignantly yearning to know more about family members–namely her great-grandfather. The sense of longing and loss she expresses is painful but soulful, reminding me of how a child of adoption yearns to know about their biological parents. Readers will immediately be drawn to the author’s style, which feels almost musical, like a slow, dreamy ballad.
She writes of times when her ancestors had to hide who they were, in the face of prejudice and judgement, which is true for many groups of people then and now. It’s easy to recognize that Porter is an award-winning writer, journalist, and poet. She has lovingly crafted an exquisite family album using thoughts, letters, poetry, images, mementos, newspaper clippings, and phraseology around fire. This assemblage alone makes the memoir stand out and brings this family to life in a way that an ordinary memoir couldn’t.
Anyone who has dreamed of finding out more about their ancestors or sympathized with their struggles to overcome barriers and fit in, can relate to the author’s story. Born from the stories she’d heard about her family band, she set out to discover why her great-grandfather picked up and moved away from all that he knew and cared about, but she also wanted to find her own connections with her family that could lend to healing via a cleansing fire. “Approaching Fire”, by Michelle Porter, is far from being a mere scrapbook. It’s a tribute to what family can mean.