Max Porter takes grief and gives it the face of a crow in Grief is a Thing with Feathers. You think I mean figuratively. But no, in this prose poem slash novel, there is literally a Crow character. The less fantastical characters are a dad with two sons, whose mom and wife has died accidentally.

Porter alternates the voices of the boys, dad, and crow. And yes, some parts of the chapters or poems are written in the language of the crow. So, you’d think somehow that this isn’t a book to be taken seriously. And you’d be wrong. This is a heart-wrenching book, with moments of genuine levity and near silliness.

Dad says, “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 missing her.”

In another part, Dad also says, “Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us let no man slow or speed or fix.”

All I can say is amen to both quotes. And thanks to Porter for so accurately capturing the tangled haze of grief.

My conclusions

Well, why the heck did I leave this short book on my shelf unread for so long? Because I was afraid of its hit to my solar plexus, that’s why. And hit it did. Because our family lost a young woman too tragically early, I can say I’ve know the kind of grief in this book.

And I think Porter conveys the story of this small family creatively and well. Crow is a device to delve more deeply into feelings, when the characters might rather just play video games. He is the kind of protector we want—who helps fusion us but doesn’t hesitate to jostle our funny bone occasionally too.

The Dad character is a scholar, writing a book about the 20th-century English poet Ted Hughes. Hughes wrote a catalog of poems about his version of Crow, so this book is an homage as well. I’m not familiar with Hughes, but that didn’t make it harder to read Porter. In fact, I hunted down some of Hughes’ Crow poems just for reference.

This is a gentle, poignant book with many insightful truths about grief that pack a wallop. I’m keeping it on my shelf, which is high praise from me. I’ll put it right next to The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. They are radically different, but both address the grieving process. I hope you’ll read Porter’s book, whether or not you’ve experienced deep grief in your life. (Which, of course, I sincerely hope you haven’t.)