Recent Read – Grief is the Thing with Feathers

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

My rating ✰4✰

Picture and quote from Goodreads

In a London flat, two young boys face the unbearable sadness of their mother’s sudden death. Their father, a Ted Hughes scholar and scruffy romantic, imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness.

In this moment of despair they are visited by Crow – antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. This self-described sentimental bird is attracted to the grieving family and threatens to stay until they no longer need him. As weeks turn to months and physical pain of loss gives way to memories, this little unit of three begin to heal.

In this extraordinary debut – part novella, part polyphonic fable, part essay on grief, Max Porter’s compassion and bravura style combine to dazzling effect. Full of unexpected humour and profound emotional truth, Grief is the Thing with Feathers marks the arrival of a thrilling new talent.

This is a short book, just 114 pages. I read it in a day. The format is interesting. It is told from the perspective of the two boys as one voice, the father, and a crow who seems to represent grief/therapist/dead wife. I’m not sure.

It’s confusing. It jumps around in time and in thought. It feels chaotic and crazy at some points where I had to read whole sections again and still couldn’t piece together what was going on.

But it also felt so real and brutal and I could feel the anguish the poor man was going through, that I’m going through. Here are a couple of passages from this book that really resonated with me.

She won’t ever use (make-up, turmeric, hairbrush, thesaurus).

She will never finish (Patricia Highsmith novel, peanut butter, lip balm).

And I will never shop for green Virago Classics for her birthday.

I will stop finding her hairs.

I will stop hearing her breathing.

I had so many of the same things. Jason will never finish his salsa or his cereal or the adhd books he got for his last birthday. I will never need to shop for yoyos again or pick up random cookbooks when I see them. Not for him anyway. If Pepper picks up one of his hobbies one day perhaps. Eventually all traces that he lived here will be cleaned away. Not his things, but his messes.

I missed her so much that I wanted to build a hundred-foot memorial to her with my bare hands. I wanted to see her sitting in a vast stone chair in Hyde Park, enjoying her view. Everybody passing could comprehend how much I miss her. How physical my missing is. I miss her so much it is a vast golden prince, a concert hall, a thousand trees, a lake, nine thousand buses, a million cars, twenty million birds and more. The whole city is my missing her.

I don’t want to build a shrine to my Jason, but I do find myself wanting everyone to know how much I’m hurting. I tell random people at the grocery store that my husband died and that’s why I’m crying. I frequently and unconsciously begin conversations with people I haven’t seen in a while, or ever, with my husband died x number of weeks ago. I don’t want people to forget him or to forget how much I loved him. I don’t want to forget him either.

There were other passages that stuck with me. The dad was writing a book and at one point we see the chapter breakdown and each title is crossed out and written in their place is “I miss my wife” over and over again.

It also talks about how he couldn’t wish for his death because of his children. I agree he can’t act on it. That’s why I’m still here, because of my child.

This book was a wonderful little glimpse in to a state of I’m not alone. There are others who are feeling the exact same thing. And somehow, for the grief that fills me up in missing my husband, no matter how many times I get that reassurance that others have been in my place and survived it, it is still so comforting to hear that I am not alone.

If this was a little less confusing it would have been a 5 star read for me. The confusing parts felt totally natural, my thoughts are a jumbled mess when the grief takes over for those minutes, but it still made for a confusing read.

I highly recommend this short little gem for anyone that is battling the grief monster at this time

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