Here he is, husband and father, scruffy romantic, a shambolic scholar--a man adrift in the wake of his wife's sudden, accidental death. And there are his two sons who like him struggle in their London apartment to face the unbearable sadness that has engulfed them. The father imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness, while the boys wander, savage and unsupervised.
In this moment of violent despair they are visited by Crow--antagonist, trickster, goad, protector, therapist, and babysitter. This self-described "sentimental bird," at once wild and tender, who "finds humans dull except in grief," threatens to stay with the wounded family until they no longer need him. As weeks turn to months and the pain of loss lessens with the balm of memories, Crow's efforts are rewarded and the little unit of three begins to recover: Dad resumes his book about the poet Ted Hughes; the boys get on with it, grow up.
Part novella, part polyphonic fable, part essay on grief, Max Porter's extraordinary debut combines compassion and bravura style to dazzling effect. Full of angular wit and profound truths, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers is a startlingly original and haunting debut by a significant new talent.
Porter's first novel is a heartbreaking and life-affirming meditation on the dislocating power of grief. Events are presented from the viewpoint of three characters: a recently widowed dad, his two young boys, and a talking crow who, like Poe's raven, roosts in their house as a tangible symbol of the family's need to come to terms with their loss. The husband has been recently contracted to write a study of Ted Hughes's Crow (written after the death of Sylvia Plath, who is also referenced here), and like the Hughes's trickster Crow, this Crow shifts shape and personality to address the changing needs of the different family members. Porter's characters express their feelings through observations that are profound and simply phrased. The dad recalls the harmonious feeling of lives shared early in his marriage, "when our love was settling into the shape of our lives like cake mixture reaching the corners of the tin as it swells and bakes." The boys, dismayed at how protectively adults coddle them against the reality of their mother's death, wonder, "Where are the fire engines? Where is the noise and clamour of an event like this?" The powerful emotions evoked in this novel will resonate with anyone who has experienced love, loss, and mourning.
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The black bird in the room
Written in an ever-changing form, bouncing between diary entries, poetic soliloquy, and broken stream of consciousness, Grief is the Thing with Feathers details the process of grief and how different maturities of mind digest loss. Though their reactions may differ, they recognize the same loud presence in the room, the Crow. The Crow's relationship with the family is not written as the reader would expect, which is lovely and heart-breaking.
One of the best books ever written