Max Porter’s new novel, Grief is the Thing with Feathers is hard to pin down. I liked it. I admired it. I found it has much to say about grief, judging from my own experience with it.
But I’m still not quite sure what to make of it.
The narrative switches between three voices, the widowed father, the two boys who speak as one voice in their sections and the crow whom I read as the embodiment of grief though this may not be right.
There’s not really a story here, not in the classical sense. It’s not about what happens, but about what it’s like to deal with loss. The story arc is emotional rather than dramatic.
I liked how the boys were portrayed. They forget to be sad, engage in games while others are grieving. They worry about their father, try to remember their mother, act just as small children would in this situation. Confused at times, apparently knowing at others. That they work as a unit instead of individuals helps the novel overall since it is really about their father.
The father loses not just the love of his life but the life the two of them expected to live. His grief is not just for a person but for a future that has been lost. I liked him. He made me reconsider some people I have known and what happened to them. To us.
Grief, the crow, works here somehow, though I can’t quite explain it. The crow thinks and acts like a bird sometimes, there are passages of random words and sounds just the things a real crow would say after spending time with people. Other times it’s a bit wise, a bit of a metaphor for sometime more than it is a bird.
The novel is written like a series of prose poems, scenes and thoughts that struck home for me more than once. This section from towards the end, for example, written from the boys point of view:
We used to think she would turn up one day and say it had all been a test.
We used to think she could see us through the mirrors.
We used to think she was an undercover agent, sending Dad money, asking for updates.
We were careful to age her, never trap her. Careful to name her Granny, when Dad became Grandpa.
We hope she likes us.
That last line, those five words, that little bit slays me.
Never to know for certain if your mother likes the man you have become. That’s a powerful thing, an important aspect of grief that I don’t believe I’ve found in literature before.
It struck very close to home.
So this is strange little review of a strange little book. I got this one from my local library and I really wish I had bought it. I’d like to put it on my “To be re-read in retirement” shelf.