• Mary A. Dempsey

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers

Updated: Oct 1, 2018

I’ve just finished Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, Max Porter’s small and unusual book about a young widower and his two sons. So gripping was the depiction of grief’s teasing, bullying, healing, hurtful ways that I was sure Porter, the editorial director of the U.K.’s Granta and Portobello Books, must be a widower.

He isn’t. But he has lived with grief. His father died when he was 6.

As my co-author Marti Benedetti and I push forward on our book project about widowhood dating, grief is a running theme. What Porter’s book impressed upon me was how deeply loss affects everyone in a family.

Grief may lift, lighten and ease with time but its imprint is never erased. Indeed, the father in the book notes, “Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project.”

One of my friends spotted the book title’s similarity to that of Emily Dickinson’s poem, ‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers. This is intentional. Dickinson is one of Porter’s obsessions, as is English poet Ted Hughes (who was married to Sylvia Plath). The “feathers” in Porter’s title is a wink at Hughes’ literary work Crow. In a book-within-a-book twist, the widowed father—an author—is struggling to advance his newest tome, titled Ted Hughes’s "Crow” on the Couch: a Wild Analysis.

Porter’s book even has its own Crow, a fantastical character that joins the mourning household.

This award-winning book, published in 2015, is chaotic, gut-wrenching, and occasionally funny. Like grief itself. Widows and widowers will recognize its jolting ride. The people who date widows and widowers will gain better understanding of how painful and powerful and poetic grief can be. I recommend it.

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