We read Max Porter’s Grief is a Thing With Feathers for book club. Yet another reminder of why book club is great (if the bowls of candy & chocolate weren’t sufficiently compelling) is the invitation to read things I would never otherwise read. Even things I don’t like. Maybe especially things I don’t like?
I didn’t like this book. And not just because it’s a prose-poem and not a novel. I swear! Actually the only parts I did like — and the reason I’m still recommending it (yes, I’m recommending it) — were the lines of poetry throughout that are arresting reminders of one of the purposes for reading: encountering beauty.
So what didn’t I like? The book focuses on how a father/husband and his sons experience grief following the death of the wife/mother. It uses the character/symbol of the crow to represent and play with grief, and the crow gets narrative moments, too. I didn’t like the crow because I couldn’t figure out what he was all about and he seemed needlessly playful and metaphor-shifting and generally opaque. So frowny face to the crow. And then there wasn’t enough to grasp onto to fully connect with the father and sons. They sure expressed their grief beautifully, but I didn’t have enough of a sense of them as people to sympathize, and the descriptions of grief were (an odd complaint) too beautiful to let me empathize: rather than feeling the grief, I was instead taken up by the beauty of the writing in those moments. It felt like grief tourism of the sort where nothing was asked or demanded of me as a reader .
And why am I still recommending it? Well for the flashes of beauty. And because the book takes about 90 minutes to read (in fact – I read all but the last fifteen pages while getting my hair cut) and really. You spend 90 minutes in ways that are far, far less satisfyig and enriching. Listening to another podcast on the state of American politics for instance. Or trying to choose a show on Netflix, finding nothing inspiring and so watching an episode of the West Wing (again). Or browsing Pinterest for a place to store onions that is not the bottom drawer of your cupboard. Or otherwise indulging in the middle class, childfree luxury that is a life of leisure.