Presented as a memoir but similar in style to a novel, The Molly Fire (ECW Press, 2005) by Toronto photographer and filmmaker Michael Mitchell is an intimate family mosaic triggered by the death of his mother, Molly Mitchell, a painter, who has drowned in Victoria while taking a bath in her 80th year in April of 2000. The first-person narrator makes the necessary journey to Vancouver Island, where his mother and father concluded their 60-year marriage, and commences a fractured memory trip triggered by his mother's assorted papers, recipes, diaries, personal treasures and photos, etc. The meandering meditation, lament and celebration of his own upbringing and his mother's painting career, his father's World War II experiences and a variety of family secrets, loves and other vicissitudes is illustrated by some artsy, oblique colour photos that universalize the otherwise extremely private material. There are some cryptic, documentary-style notes at the end to needlessly explain the imagery. "A Havana street photographer made the photograph of me and my sons Jake and Ben in 2001. All the keys were Molly's. The BC license plate, LEGEYT, is from her last Mini." It's hard to determine whether these extra brush strokes are poignant or just overkill. Victoria is one of the primary settings for this nostalgic but unsentimental wandering back to the early 18th century via the Orient, Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario and England. Most people have parents who die before them, few download their experiences into a print gallery for voyeurs of the heart. This is a nifty experiment, probably therapeutic, but dignified. And better than a tombstone.

Mitchell's previous book is Monsters: Human Freaks in America's Gilded Age (ECW Press, 2003), a study of the work of 19th New York freak photographer Charles Eisenmann.


Monsters: Human Freaks in America's Gilded Age (ECW Press, 2003).

The Molly Fire (ECW Press, 2005, $19.95). 1-55022-676-2