Grief Is the Thing With Feathers is the most exquisite little flight of a story captured between hardback covers, and its appearance has been crafted to show us that we are in for something unusual. This deeply moving book about death and its grief-stricken consolations – love and art – appears to be no more than a scattering of text, dialogue and poetry that lifts and settles on the page, the frailest sort of thing. Yet as we read on, we become aware that the way it has been put together is robust indeed ... Risking the rigours of its intellectual and aesthetic endeavour through extreme compression, Porter’s story becomes a profound meditation on the difficulty of writing about love and loss.
Although charged throughout with high emotion, the novel is rarely sentimental. Porter resists the static register of the maudlin, creating instead a fabric of constant shifts and calibrations in voice, moving from rage to madness to profanity and humor. He has an excellent ear for the flexibility of language and tone, juxtaposing colloquialisms against poetic images and metaphors. The result is a book that has the living, breathing quality of the title’s 'thing with feathers.'”
As resonant, elliptical and distilled as a poem, Grief Is the Thing With Feathers is one of the most moving, wildly inventive first novels you're likely to encounter this year. It's funny — in a jet-black way — yet also fiercely emotional, capturing the painful sucker-punch of loss with a fresh immediacy that rivals Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking ... Porter's unusual novel puts grief in its place not by dismissing it, but by confronting it dead-on as a painful but inescapable part of life. Grief is the Thing With Feathers is a wondrous, supremely literary, ultimately hopeful little book.
This is not a book easy to explain, because grief is not an easy feeling to convey, which is partly why the experimental form works so well here. The three alternating perspectives, from Crow, to Dad, to the Boys act as a frenzied and mournful circling of the slippery-to-define grief ... This book is a sublime and painful conjuring of a family’s grief and the misfit creature with the power to both haunt and help them. It is a complex story, not simply-told or sparse: Nothing is missing. Let it be a call for more great books of this length to be recognized for what they are — whole. Extraordinary is a book with feathers.
...while appreciating this book doesn’t require knowledge of Hughes’s poems or the trickster myths on which they drew, those things certainly help. The constant literary allusions make Grief is the Thing with Feathers unpredictably playful, filling it with sarcasm, absurdity and black-winged humor.
Porter’s collage of prose and lineated poetry is the very opposite of self-help. Grief does not seek to offer answers, but instead brilliantly mimics the chaos of the grieving brain, offering a vision of how loss dramatically alters it ... Porter’s book is a gift in its understanding of the sounds and reverberations of grief. Yet, Porter avoids a broken-but-stronger sentimentality by landing some final sucker punches.
The novel’s references are broad and eclectic; Porter himself is clearly an erudite man, and the result is a book that yields more with each subsequent rereading ... As tired as the term may be, 'postmodern' is the perfect descriptor for Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Unreliable narration obscures the distinction between reality and imagination, and metafictional awareness binds the book ... Layered with pathos, allusion, and humor, Grief is the Thing with Feathers is more than the sum of its composite elements. Pithy yet rich, the novel is a moving and astounding debut. Porter’s Crow is as vivid as Hughes’ original, and his writing no less memorable.
...[a] brief, bizarre and brilliant debut ... Simultaneously straightforward and mysterious, the book illustrates the need for and calls into question 'moving on, as a concept' with Dad insisting that 'any sensible person knows that grief is a long-term project.'
Surreal, sometimes disorienting and sharply emotionally resonant, it is a beautifully written distillation of the experience of shocking loss ... its shifting forms, its beak-by-jowl juxtapositions of the quotidian and the hallucinatory, render perfectly the bafflement of extreme grief, which can never be anticipated, only survived ... literary allusions enrich Grief, but it stands without them as well — the reader need not ever have heard of Dickinson or Hughes to feel its emotional dive and soar. It's a novel about grief that in some ways mocks the traditional novel about grief.
Porter is interested in how time seems to drag and speed up to a person under grief or strain ... Grief is the Thing with Feathers is full of moments in which instances of humor surge up from an atmosphere otherwise dominated by stillness and loss.
...sounds pretty heady — and indeed there are moments of poetry and impressionistic observations and odd little otherworldly exchanges, allusions to brands of psychology and fables. But piercing the wordplay and abstractions and flights of fancy are the sharp specifics that make the family’s loss clear and their grief that much more real ... To call this tiny but potent book a novel is to grossly misrepresent it — but maybe that says more about our constrictive definition of the novel than it does about this book, which uses the writer’s, and Crow’s, whole bag of tricks to transform the indescribable absence that is grief into palpable, undeniable life.
I know this book already sounds fussy and overly literary! But it's not! It reads like a breeze. A somber breeze, sure, but you get right through it without really questioning the seemingly wild form. The book's short page count (114) helps out in this regard, but so do the tenderness and humor of the characters, and also the fact that the form just makes sense. Both grief and lyric poetry perform similar operations ... I want to stress that this book about bummer stuff is not a total bummer. There's a ton of dry, grim British humor that pops up right when you need it to. We're just emerging from the specter of June gloom. Grief Is the Thing with Feathers is ideal for the odd early summer cloudy day. There's enough dolor to match your doldrums, and enough levity to lift you up and out of them.