I wouldn’t call this a poetry collection, but it’s not really a straightforward novel either. It’s maybe best described as a novel in poetry form. Maybe?
This is a book about grief. It centers on a dad and his two young sons who are coping with the recent sudden loss of the mother of the family. They are visited by a grotesque, cruel crow, which says it will stay with them until they no longer need him. The crow not only represents the family’s grief, but also acts as a kind of trickster-counsellor, especially to the dad. As their grief and the way they deal with it changes, so too does crow and how he speaks to them.
It doesn’t say anything new about grief, but the way that it does it makes the known new. The story is told in fragments of poetry and prose by the crow, boys, and dad. Much of it, especially crow’s sections, is abstract and, at times, confusing. It is a novel fragmented as life is fragmented by grief. But I found if I just read through the confusion, and let it wash over me, I could understand the meaning without necessarily always being able to articulate it. The emotion and the understanding of that emotion was enough and what was necessary. In that respect it’s definitely a book to read in as few sittings as possible (it’s very short; I read it in less than an hour).
The dad is a Ted Hughes scholar, and retreats into his work to deal with his grief. I haven’t read ‘Crow’ by Hughes, but I know this book and its crow is loosely based on Hughes’ crow. There is definitely another layer to Grief is the Thing which I couldn’t see without knowing Hughes’ Crow, but it was still able to stand on its own as its own thing. I’m definitely going to read Hughes and then re-read this to see what else I find and if anything changes.
I think this book is kind of genius, and I won’t be surprised if it makes my best-of list this year. Read it in few sittings and let it wash over you.