Grief is the Thing with Feathers

Max Porter

After the sudden death of a wife and mother, a father and two sons struggle in their mourning. To their rescue comes an oversized Crow, apparently a manifestation of Ted Hughes’s poetic creation, acting as a kind of counselor. (The dad is a Hughes scholar; the author Max Porter is a casual scholar himself.) The book rotates between the voices of the Dad, Crow, and Boys, the Crow parts often devolving into cryptic crow word play. The title is also a play on poetry, swapping Emily Dickinson’s hope for grief. (If there’s a meaningful connection between Emily Dickinson and Ted Hughes, I seem to have missed it.)

As a portrait of the anguish of loss, Porter captures the all-consuming nature of it. But it’s frustrating that the departed woman is outlined only in her roles as wife and mother — she seems to have had no other identities in the world. Reading about the father and sons living in London, I flipped to Porter’s biography on the flap where it says he lives with his wife and sons in London… and I couldn’t help wondering if his wife should be concerned. Apparently Porter wrote the book thinking about his father’s death when he was young. The personal influence on this book didn’t really come through for me. In fact reading that interview and how he hesitantly talks about his father’s death and only to a certain degree (at which point he “politely, but firmly, refuses to discuss” further), I’m surprised he says the book was “an opportunity for me to work out how I felt, about my brother, and about my dad.” It’s an interesting book, but its depth of emotion is rather insubstantial.