Max Porter pens a slender ode to mourning and loneliness in Grief Is the Thing With Feathers. When Mom dies, Crow comes to meet Dad and the Boys, and he vows to stay until he is no longer needed. Crow is a sort of trickster — a jester, but a gifted wordsmith as well, and he's here to help Dad through his grief. Crow's literary fireworks seem to soothe (or, perhaps, distract) Dad, and a timid bond begins. Porter's Crow reminds me a bit of Brian Doyle's novel Mink River, which features a talking crow as well (and from me, this is very high praise). There's a lot to unpack in this slim volume; I can see myself going back to it again and again. Beautiful, odd, whimsical, and thought-provoking, this tiny novella is worth the read. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
Oof. This book hit me right in the feelings. Max Porter's debut is a beautiful story of family grieving told through poetry and fable. He shows us that grief can crack a smile after a while. Recommended By Jake A., Powells.com
The debut outing from Granta Books senior editor Max Porter, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers is a distinctive, outstanding work of fiction. Short yet impressive, Porter's novel(la) is the story of a father (and Ted Hughes scholar) left a single parent following the unexpected death of his wife. Alone to raise his twin boys, the father must contend with his own sorrow while alleviating the emotional struggles of his young sons. The three of them are visited by a crow (a la Hughes), offering guidance and a path through the forlorn moments of irremediable loss.
Fabulistic, tender, droll, expressive, playful, and sincere, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers is indelibly imprinted with a personal yet universal touch. Porter's slim work exceeds the boundaries of simple classification, offering a timeless, poignant originality that evokes emotion as easily as it does laughter. Deftly composed and characterized by a buoyancy eliciting a natural empathy, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers is an unassuming totem; a quiet testament to the enduring power of story. Recommended By Jeremy G., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
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 flat 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. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
"It stunned me, full of beauty, hilarity, and thick black darkness." Evie Wyld
"[Porter captures] not only the puzzle of a father-son interaction but also its music, its varied and unpredictable textures." New Republic
"Like a book of hours for the bereaved....Mr. Porter gives expression to grief in all its emotional manifestations....Unpredictably playful, [filled] with sarcasm, absurdity and black-winged humor." The Wall Street Journal
"Grief Is the Thing with Feathers argues that books, literature and poetry can help save us. This book is a sublime and painful conjuring of a family’s grief and the misfit creature with the power to both haunt and help them. It is a complex story, not simply-told or sparse: Nothing is missing. Let it be a call for more great books of this length to be recognized for what they are — whole. Extraordinary is a book with feathers" Los Angeles Times
"Allusive and half-poetic, Porter’s tribute to a family’s grief and to Crow, a cycle of Ted Hughes poems, is both simple and invigoratingly bizarre: A Hughes scholar and his two sons mourn the accidental death of their mother with the help, it seems, of a plastic crow come to life. "Dad," "Crow," and "Boys" take turns narrating, tracing the arc of a mourning process that will neither be rushed nor slowed. You don’t have to read Hughes’s Crow first, but you might as well; both books are short, strange, and timeless." Vulture
"Porter’s daringly strange story skirts disbelief to speak, engagingly and effectively, of the pain this world inflicts, of where the ghosts go, and of how we are left to press on and endure it all. Elegant, imaginative, and perfectly paced. A contribution to the literature of grief and to literature in general." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"[Porter] has an excellent ear for the flexibility of language and tone, juxtaposing colloquialisms against poetic images and metaphors. The result is a book that has the living, breathing quality of the title's 'thing with feathers.'...[Grief Is the Thing with Feathers] is about both the triumphs and failures of memory, and art's power of evocation. . . . One of the things this luminous novel insists upon is that loss endures, even as grief departs. Our recoveries are always partial, and this sense of having been splintered is what finally defines us." New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Max Porter works in publishing. He lives in South London with his wife and children. Grief Is the Thing with Feathers is his first book.