Approaching Fire is a wonderful book to read; a difficult book to categorize. It contains elements of memoir, as Michelle Porter’s story of attempting to uncover the stories of her great-grandfather, Metis fiddler and performer Leon Robert Goulet. But there is also poetry, and prose that is closer to essay than to memoir, and found texts like newspaper clippings and advertisements. The multi-genre, somewhat fragmented approach is appropriate for a story that has come down to the author in fragments, some of them confusing and contradictory.
While there’s a part of me as a reader that yearns for a straightforward, chronological, all-prose memoir of a writer’s search for her family roots, I love how deliberately Approaching Fire plays with and frustrates that expectation, reminding me that stories of the past rarely unfold so neatly — and stories of a Metis past in a country that has tried to erase Indigenous stories are even harder to tell in a simple, straightforward way. The metaphor of fire — controlled fires that make the land healthy; out-of-control fires that destroy — is woven throughout the book and adds to its power and poignancy.