Elegant, imaginative, and perfectly paced. A contribution to the literature of grief and to literature in general.


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.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-55597-741-2

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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