It’s bad enough to lose a spouse, too soon and unexpectedly, and be left to bring children up alone. It’s worse, and more complicated still, when a huge crow takes her place.
“I lay back, resigned, and wished my wife wasn’t dead,” says Dad. “I wished I wasn’t lying terrified in a giant bird embrace in my hallway.” Crow is a metaphor, borrowed from the poems of Ted Hughes, whom debut novelist Porter rightly reveres—and indeed, Dad is a Hughes scholar, gently berated by the great man himself for posing a dissertation instead of a question at a reading. But Crow, framed against and obscured by the “blackness of his trauma,” is also very real. Porter’s novel, related in verse of mixed measure, charts the course of grief, the two sons “brave new boys without a Mum” who, in time, come to resent the meddling, unwanted Crow enough that one or the other of them—it doesn’t matter which, Porter tells us—becomes a teenager with a murderous hatred of “black birds with nasty beaks.” In time Dad comes out of his shattered shell enough to date, taking a Plath scholar to bed: “She was funny and bright and did her best with a fucked-up situation.” Was Crow watching? Probably, and creepily, though now, a couple of years into his invasion, his tutelage alternately maddening and to the point, he’s ready to leave, saying his goodbye in a lovely poem that’s strong enough to stand outside the context of the book, and that closes, “Just be good and listen to birds. / Long live imagined animals, the need, the capacity. / Just be kind and look out for your brother.” Porter’s daringly strange story skirts disbelief to speak, engagingly and effectively, of the pain this world inflicts, of where the ghosts go, and of how we are left to press on and endure it all.
Elegant, imaginative, and perfectly paced. A contribution to the literature of grief and to literature in general.