Reviews for Grief Is the Thing with Feathers: A Novel

by Max Porter

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

It's bad enough to lose a spouse, too soon and unexpectedly, and be left to bring children up alone. It's worse, and more complicated still, when a huge crow takes her place. "I lay back, resigned, and wished my wife wasn't dead," says Dad. "I wished I wasn't lying terrified in a giant bird embrace in my hallway." Crow is a metaphor, borrowed from the poems of Ted Hughes, whom debut novelist Porter rightly reveresand indeed, Dad is a Hughes scholar, gently berated by the great man himself for posing a dissertation instead of a question at a reading. But Crow, framed against and obscured by the "blackness of his trauma," is also very real. Porter's novel, related in verse of mixed measure, charts the course of grief, the two sons "brave new boys without a Mum" who, in time, come to resent the meddling, unwanted Crow enough that one or the other of themit doesn't matter which, Porter tells usbecomes a teenager with a murderous hatred of "black birds with nasty beaks." In time Dad comes out of his shattered shell enough to date, taking a Plath scholar to bed: "She was funny and bright and did her best with a fucked-up situation." Was Crow watching? Probably, and creepily, though now, a couple of years into his invasion, his tutelage alternately maddening and to the point, he's ready to leave, saying his goodbye in a lovely poem that's strong enough to stand outside the context of the book, and that closes, "Just be good and listen to birds. / Long live imagined animals, the need, the capacity. / Just be kind and look out for your brother." 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. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal
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In the opening chapter of this forthright and moving first novel from the author of Good Indian Girls: Stories, Deep Singh calls himself a lost boy. Living with his Indian immigrant parents in a conservative California town during the Reagan era, Deep has more on his plate than ordinary adolescent anguish, wrestling with both prejudice and family tension as he seeks escape through love of an older, married women named Lily. But his passion backfires; Lily herself is conflicted by her Chinese American heritage, and Deep is eventually blamed by his mother for a tragedy involving his mute brother. Yet the seeds of redemption are there. VERDICT Swift, dense, and touching; for most readers. Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

In this remarkable debut, a man grief-stricken by his wife's sudden death stumbles around the house, ignoring his writings on Ted Hughes's poetry and unable to care for his two boys. Then he answers the door and is whacked backward by a huge, decayed-smelling crow, the mystical black embodiment of his sorrow. A self-described trickster there both to torment the man ("For a little break in the mourning, I will give you something to think about") and to push him through his suffering, Crow speaks oracularly in shimmering passages that alternate with those of Dad and Boys. VERDICT Like a prose poem in its splendid language but with its own swift flow, this is highly recommended for ambitious readers. Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly
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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) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.