Sarah Coolidge at The Quarterly Conversation:
After the suicide of Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes wrote what he considered to be his most important poetic work, Crow: From the Life and Times of the Crow. At the book’s center is Crow, one of folklore’s iconic figures. Hughes uses this feathered symbol of death to take on mythology, Christianity, and conventional poetry.
Crow performs monumental tasks—in one poem, he binds the Heavens to the Earth—but always with the nefarious air of a trickster: when the nail he uses to join the terrestrial and the celestial becomes “gangrenous and stank . . . Crow / Grinned.” In another poem, aptly named “A Childish Prank,” we are given the origin story of the two sexes. Crow is the creator, biting a worm in two and sticking one end partially into man and the other end completely into woman.
This is more or less the same Crow we find in the pages of Max Porter’s debut novel Grief Is the Thing with Feathers. Except that here, in a slim novel barely more than 100 pages, Crow is given the space to grow beyond his folkloric origins. The book’s premise is simple. A father and his two sons are mourning in the wake of the mother’s unexpected death. Dad, as the recent widower is called, was in the middle of writing a book about Hughes’s Crow when his wife died. And the boys, always referred to in the plural, are perplexed by the lack of chaos in the wake of tragedy. All three are unsure of how to proceed with their lives. Then one night Crow arrives on the doorstep of their London flat.