Debut Novel Focuses on the Chaotic Brokenness of Grief

An exclusive Authorlink interview

By Diane Slocum

October, 2016

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers
By Max Porter
(Graywolf Press)
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Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, Max Porter, Graywolf Press – A father and his sons try to live through their grief after the death of their wife and mother. And then there is Crow. Whatever or whoever Crow is, this thing leaving feathers on pillows. This Crow who promises – or threatens – to stay with them as long as they need him. 

“I wanted to find a form that seemed appropriate for the agony and the mess . . .”

AUTHORLINK: When you first imagined writing a story about moving through grief, did it come to you like this – or how did it evolve?

PORTER: Yes, it came to me like this, in pieces. I knew I wanted to write a sibling relationship as one character, and I knew I wanted it to be fragmentary, to be more of a collage than a book. I wanted to find a form that seemed appropriate for the agony and the mess and the unevenness of raw grief. Polished prose felt all wrong.

AUTHORLINK: How did you come up with a crow as a character?

PORTER: I wanted to bring in a noisy dark central voice, a death expert, and crows are that. I also wanted to write about poetic obsession, about how fixation on certain works can lead people into incredibly deep and strange places. So I gave the Dad this obsessing with Hughes that comes alive. I also hoped to make a book that behaved like a bird does, to reflect the sudden shifts between beautiful and disgusting. I extended that out, so the book leaps between sentimental and silly, hopeful and sour, dark and light. Because that seems to me to be realistic of the grieving brain.

AUTHORLINK: Is there any link between your crow and Poe’s raven?

PORTER: Nope! I have to admit to not being very familiar with Poe or his raven.

“The whole book is his movement between nastiness and kindness. . .”

AUTHORLINK: Would you call Crow a bad guy as one reviewer said, or is he a helper?

PORTER: Absolutely both. He helps with his badness. The whole book is his movement between nastiness and kindness, it is all his way of helping these people out.

“I wanted to embrace the strangeness of childhood and the childhood imagination rather than tidy it up.”

AUTHORLINK: How did you capture the feelings of life being unreal and disjointed for this widower in his grief? What about the sons?

PORTER: I tried to juxtapose emotional states with the realities of domestic life. So that they accept they need time, space, emotional support, but they also need food and shampoo and toys. Real life doesn’t stop. And the fragmentary form helped me do that, because I think one of the characteristics of mourning is that time itself is disjointed, violated. You go from sink holes of despair to uncanny bouts of laughter and you realized days have passed, or you’re stuck in an hour for what seems like weeks. I wanted the leap between fairytale weirdness to domestic banality to speak to that disjointedness. I wanted to embrace the strangeness of childhood and the childhood imagination rather than tidy it up.

AUTHORLINK: How would you describe your style of writing in this book? Would you call it poetic?

PORTER: Haha, poetic but not poetry seems about right to me.

AUTHORLINK: When you submitted your book, was it easy or difficult to find acceptance for a novel as different as this?

PORTER: I sent it to Faber, knowing that because of the Ted Hughes connection they might be interested, or offended. Thankfully they were interested. The editor there was incredibly passionate in the way she published it. She had faith in it.

AUTHORLINK: What else have you published?

PORTER: Not a word.

AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?

PORTER: Nothing, sadly. I have a day job in publishing, and three young kids, and this book has kept me very busy. I also lost a notebook with the plot of a novel on a train, so that was a set back! But I’ll do something eventually.

About the Author:

Max Porter works in publishing in London where he lives with his wife and children. His book won the 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award.

Diane Slocum
Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum

Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.

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