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Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, Max Porter, Graywolf Press, 2016, 114 pp
Nearly everyone alive has lost someone dear to them. Not everyone can write well about it but Max Porter has done it in breathtaking fashion.
A man has lost his wife suddenly, unexpectedly due to an accident. His two young sons have lost their mother.
Three voices reach out to us:
The boys as a sort of braided, combined consciousness, with the young boys-eye-view of the events, the emotions, the weird adjustment to a life run only by dad and a home without a mom.
The dad, figuring it out day by day, seeking oblivion but tethered to life by his boys.
The crow, an imaginary presence who drops feathers as he performs the role of grief counselor and family guardian. That crow symbolizes the magical thinking so well described by Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking.
Max Porter has been a bookseller and is currently an editor for Granta Books. He loves poetry and this is his first novel. You can learn about how and why he wrote it by listening to his interview on the Otherppl podcast, but I suggest reading the book first.
Very short chapters, some of which read like poetry, take you through the grieving process of the man and his sons. That crow is a trickster myth character who mixes words, sounds, free verse, and shenanigans.
If you have ever lost someone you loved and grown weary of the stock phrases (I am sorry for your loss), the platitudes of grief counselors, the surreal days and nights of dreams and hauntings by the lost one, this book will feel so familiar.
Such grief never really ends and it can make one feel slightly insane, so for me it brought new insights and a sort of reassurance and comfort and forgiveness for my own.
(Grief Is The Thing With Feathers is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)