A searing work of cultural memoir, Michelle Orange’s Pure Flame explores the meaning of maternal legacy―in her own family and across a century of seismic change.
In a series of texts with her mother, Michelle Orange learned about the existence of Janis Jerome, who, it turns out, is one of her mother’s many alter egos: the name used in a case study, eventually sold to the Harvard Business Review, about her mother’s midlife choice to leave her husband and children to pursue career opportunities in a bigger city. A flashpoint in the lives of both mother and daughter, the decision forms the heart of a broader exploration of the impact of feminism on what Adrienne Rich called “the great unwritten story”: that of the mother-daughter bond.
The death of Orange’s maternal grandmother at nearly ninety-six and the fear that her mother’s more “successful” life will not be as long bring new urgency to her questions about the woman whose absence and anger helped shape her life. Through a blend of memoir, social history, and cultural criticism, Pure Flame pursues a chain of personal, intellectual, and collective inheritance, tracing the forces that helped transform the world and what a woman might expect from it. Told with warmth and rigor, Orange’s account of her mother’s life and their relationship is pressurized in critical and unexpected ways, resulting in an essential, revelatory meditation on becoming, selfhood, freedom, mortality, storytelling, and what it means to be a mother’s daughter now.
About the author
MICHELLE ORANGE was born and raised in London, Ontario. She worked as a producer in the education and children’s divisions of TV Ontario and then joined the graduate film studies program at New York University. Her writing has appeared in Harper’s, McSweeney’s, the New York Times, the New Yorker and other publications. She is a faculty mentor in the graduate writing program at Goucher College and an adjunct assistant professor of writing at Columbia University. Orange has been an invited guest and speaker at various institutions including Yale University, New York University and the University of Western Ontario. This Is Running for Your Life, her book of essays, was named a Best Book of the Year by the New Yorker, the National Post, Flavorwire and other publications.