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.
... the story Orange excavates is rich and moving ... Orange skirts the traps of the mother-daughter memoir by going beyond personal history. She interleaves memories of her mother and maternal grandmother with discussions of writing by Simone de Beauvoir, Adrienne Rich and Susan Sontag, among others. Their thoughts on motherhood and feminism don’t perfectly align, nor do they match the views of Orange’s own mother, who climbed the corporate ladder and agitated for equal pay but who never considered herself a feminist. This is a good thing: Different voices and perspectives are allowed to coexist, thus undercutting any universal truths about women and motherhood ... Orange has matured as a writer in the intervening years. Her writing is more even and assured, her perceptions subtler. After my first reading, certain scenes haunted me for a week ... If at times I wanted to know more about how Orange felt about potentially becoming a mother herself (she describes two miscarriages but says little about their emotional impact), I was also impressed by her ability to observe her mother so carefully. She presents her mother as a separate person — not simply as the mother of a daughter, but as another self ... It is rare to see — to really see — one’s mother. Pure Flame may be Orange’s legacy. It is already her gift.
In a weave of memoir, history, and reflection, Orange judiciously considers the lives of her mother and her mother’s mother within the larger context of women’s ongoing battles for equality and liberation ... In gleaming prose of tensile strength, Orange considers the painful paradoxes of women’s lives and mother-daughter relationships, drawing on the writings of Simone de Beauvoir, Susan Sontag, and Adrienne Rich, while tracking her seemingly indomitable mother’s long-brewing lung disease and her ultimate battle between mind and body.