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Author: Max Porter
Publisher: Faber & Faber
“Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project.”
Grief is the Thing with Feathers is the story of a father and his two young sons, who are adrift in loss after the death of their wife and mother. Inspired by a meeting with a friend of his own long-dead father, Max Porter’s novella is a meditation on grief—at turns poignant, powerful, and whimsical.
Here grief is in the form of a crow who takes up residence in the flat with dad and the boys; a feathery pseudo-mother and sharp beaked truth teller. Why a crow? Dad is a Ted Hughes scholar, and Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow is a collection of poems by Hughes written in the wake of the death of his wife, Sylvia Plath. Porter’s crow is both a relative of Hughes’ and an entirely different beast.
Although small in size, this is not a story contained by the number of its pages. It could easily be read over a generous hour, but my reading of it spanned several days, consuming snatches on lunch breaks and bus rides. Although it sounds like an excuse for my slow pace, I think that reading it like this enhanced the experience—there is a wide breadth of feeling in the verse-like passages, and absorbing it slowly and carefully felt appropriate.
Anyone who has ever experienced grief will be able to identify with the faltering way that dad and the boys attempt to carry on, watched over by a wise and often mischievous crow. The boys grow older, dad starts to date, but cow stays on—will he ever really leave? Porter has written a stunning and affecting story that lingers long after reading.