In his debut novel, Max Porter writes prose like it is poetry (with allusions to poets whose work focused on grief: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and Emily Dickinson) with a plot, and follows a man and his two sons as they deal with the loss of their wife and mother. After the funeral, they are visited by a great black crow – “antagonist, trickster, god, protector, therapist, and babysitter” who attempts to force this small family
further into their grief, while also throwing them a rope to move on. By tackling grief in this way Porter gives it a language and allows the reader to enter into their own grief.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up this book; but one lazy Sunday I decided to start it before getting out of bed, and spent an extra two hours in bed, moving all of my plans for the day back so that I could finish it. This book captures the essence of grief and loss in a way that it often isn’t, it’s somehow able to put into words those emotions that people often stumble over when dealing with loss, and moving on. And by giving grief from and voice through the character of the crow Porter is able to show readers the conversations we all have with grief when faced with a great loss. You as a reader watch as the family unit falls apart, the boys too young to know exactly what is happening, and the Dad too heartbroken to know how to help.
Slowly the family pulls themselves together and begin to move on, as happens in real life, they start to lean on each other instead of their grief and the crow’s place in the story becomes less and less clear. The crow doesn’t want to leave, the family doesn’t want it to leave, but they don’t need him any longer, they are moving on.
This is the story of how your wife died.
I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to hear it.
But that’s the whole point. She banged her head.
Crow, really, it’s fine. I know. I don’t need to know.
Fancy that” (89)
The moving on doesn’t come until the last section of the book but becomes very evident in all conversations with the crow. The crow doesn’t want to leave, it’s grown attached to the family in their grief, and attempts to bring back the emotions in the Dad and Sons that brought it to the family in the first place.
This book is a meditation on grief and what drives us after a loss, how we keep moving on after a loss, through its poetic language it is able to draw readers in and at 114 pages it is a relatively quick read and leaves the reader meditating on the place that grief has in our lives.
Recommendation: If you like stories that aren’t told in a straight prose fashion, are drawn to poetry, find yourself meditating on death way too often, have ever lost someone important to you and have a few hours on your hands. Read this, and help me put into words why this book works, and why four weeks after reading it for the first time I’m still struggling with how to tell other people about it.