Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers

Processed with VSCO with c7 preset

4.0 Stars

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter is a strange little collection on loss that will leave you with a few tears by the end. 

The narrative is dissected into fragments based on perspective. The dad, the boys and the crow all have a viewpoint to share. The story starts after the death of a wife and a mother. Her husband and two young boys are left to grieve. Helping them grieve is Crow. Crow is all parts protector, comforter, and trickster. He watches over the family and offers his incites and anecdotes to help them cope. 

I greatly enjoyed this book. Edmund Burke describes grief as a pain we cling to and make the focus of our lives. Porter expresses this through the father when he is told he should move on: “Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us lets no man slow or speed or fix.”

A particularly heartbreaking part of the narrative was how the boys talked about being deliberately mean to their dad so that they wouldn’t feel bad if they forgot their mom. One of my favorite lines in the novel comes from the boys’ perspective: 

“We used to think she would turn up one day and say it had all been a test. 

We used to think we would both die at the same age she had. 

We used to think she could see us through mirrors.”

The vivid expression of grief is intermingled with the absurd, yet for anyone who has experienced grief, you know this is how it is. Grief will stalk you throughout your day, and just when you think you can keep it together; you break down. A memory or a thought will suddenly connect and there is no subduing your reaction to it. Perhaps, the single greatest line to sum up all that grief encompasses is from the dad as he remembers all the memories he shared with his wife:

“Again. I beg everything again.”

Feelings of sadness are always best soothed with a glass of dry, red wine. I recommend Domaine Paul Autard Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Rhone, France. The 2012 vintage was given a 91 rating by Wine Spectator. This red blend consists of 70% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Counoise. It has a full mouth feel and deep flavor. At $39 for a 350ml bottle, it’s on the expensive side, but totally worth it.

Format: Paperback.

Advertisements

Mary M. & Bryan Talbot’s The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia

IMG_20160801_225728

4.0 Stars

The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia recounts the life of French feminist and anarchist Louise Michel. The narrative is structured as a frame tale, in which American feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman is told the history of Michel’s work by a few women who knew her. This graphic novel explored the idealism of the Paris Commune of the 1870s and the optimistic futurism that was being displayed in the current literature.

Once I started reading, I had to stop and brush up on my French history (Joke’s on me, guys. There are annotations at the back of the book that I completely missed). Louise Michel and her revolution were fighting for the people of Paris after the fall of Napoleon III. They took over the city of Paris and tried to create a utopia where there was free marriage, in which men no longer held proprietary rights over women; equal education, where children and women could be educated and have jobs so that all classes of people had food on their tables.

This revolution was eventually taken down by the French army. The slaughter is known as the “Bloody Week” due to the thousands of France’s own people who were killed. Louise Michel was arrested and her most famous quote came the day she stood trial. She stood before the committee and said, “Since it seems that any heart that beats for liberty has the right only to a small lump of lead, I demand my share. If you let me live, I will not stop crying for vengeance, and I will denounce the assassins on the Board of Pardons to the vengeance of my brothers. If you are not cowards, kill me!” Although she dared them to execute her for her revolutionary ideals, she was deported. She spent two years in prison and seven in deportation before returning to France to continue her work.

There is one particular scene in the comic that is striking. It takes place during Michel’s deportation. The story is being recounted to the American feminist of how Louise Michelle helped the local indigenous people rise up against the white colonizers. The American feminist starts to say “you mean, she helped those nig-? I mean, she didn’t stick with her own kind?” At this point, Michel’s friend who is telling the story explodes, yelling “her own kind you say? She was sticking with her own kind! She stuck with the indigenous people, just as she always stuck with the oppressed! Just as she did with the rebellious, oppressed and then defeated people of Paris. They were fighting the same fight.”  What is important to take away from the scene is that so many of us American and feminists, forget that the feminist movement, in particular, Susan B Anthony, did not want the black man to have the right to vote before the white woman. Racism and classism was still very much an accepted norm. Yet, here we have the story of a 19th-century French woman, who defies those norms. That being said, we know how colonialism works. The white colonialist pitted tribe against tribe and there was massacre after massacre. Michel wrote to her friend, Victor Hugo, asking for his help and sent documents to the French newspapers exposing the massacre in the colony. This type of revolutionary, activism from a woman – a woman with no power, remember, she is a prisoner. She has been deported. But time and again she is reaching out to help those groups in need. And when she cannot help them, she exposes their oppressors.

While she is hailed as the “French grande dame of anarchy”, her real legacy lays in the Labour movement and women’s rights. Michel was decrying poverty in theoretical essays long before it was recognized as a problem. She was a school teacher, medical worker and revolutionary. After coming back to France she was continually in and out of prison, always giving lectures and writing essays on the Social Revolution. She was shot in the head for her words, and thankfully survived, although some reports say she had remnants of the bullet in her head. She continued her work until her passing at age 74.

The graphic novel format made this fun to read. It’s always nice to have history and feminism presented in a non-traditional style. The art was simple but striking.

Some of my favorite quotes are as follows:

“Knowledge, it must be presented in a manner that enlarges the horizon instead of restricting it. Girls are given a pile of nonsense supported by childlike logic, while at the same time boys have to swallow little balls of science until they choke. For both of us, this is a ridiculous education. Education can provide not only an avenue to economic independence, but also a means to hasten the recognition of women’s rights.”

“Let’s run into the red teeth of the chattering machine guns, the ash blowing around us like black butterflies!”

“I have seen criminals and whores and spoken with them/now I inquire if you believe them made as of now they are,/to drag their rags in blood and mire,/preordained an evil race./You to whom we are all pray, have made them what they are today. ”
(Ok, doesn’t that remind you of Drew Barrymore in Ever After when she says “first you make thieves and then punish them”? Well, now we know who said it first.)

I’m pairing this book with Left Hand‘s Milk Stout Nitro. I was originally going to get a light French lager but this graphic novel was dark and moving, so I opted for the rich, stoutly sweet taste of this beer. The mild coffee aromas coupled with the sticky sweetness of the beer perfectly matched the mood and tone of this novel.

Format: Hardcover.