Tinkers by Paul Harding
Published by Bellevue Literary Press
Publication date: January 1st 2009
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Literary
Tinkers opens with George Crosby, lying on a bed in the living room of the home he built himself, as his mind swirls and flows between the reality of his family gathered to bid him goodbye to the most exquisite reminiscences on life itself and his place in its great tiled framework.
…I will remain a set of impressions porous and open to combination with all of the other vitreous squares floating about in whoever else’s frames, because there is always the space left in reserve for the rest of their own time, and to my great-grandchildren, with more space than tiles, I will be no more than a smoky arrangement of a set of rumors, and to their great-grandchildren I will be no more than a tint of some obscure color…
Author Paul Harding takes George’s story and intersperses it with his father Howard’s tale. For Howard it is a difficult life working as a tinker, a man who travels by horse from farm to farm selling necessities to people who don’t have the means or the time to trek into the nearest town. Winter in the forested depths of rural Massachusetts is nothing more than a time of survival and things like love, whimsy, and extravagance are unheard of and yet he carries a few small pieces of jewelry wishing that as the death grip of winter approaches some woman will buy a trinket to give her hope
…as you wait for the roof to give out or your will to snap and the ice to be too deep to chop through with the axe as you stand in your husband’s boots on the frozen lake at midnight, the dry hack of the blade on ice so tiny under the wheeling and frozen stars…that your husband would never stir from his sleep in the cabin across the ice, would never hear and come running, half frozen, in only his union suit, to save you from chopping a hole in the ice and sliding into it…
George’s life, in comparison is a much different one, spent largely working in a high school as a guidance counselor until he retires and becomes known as a man with a way with broken antique clocks. He finds an elegant simplicity in their complexity; a perfect explanation for the workings of life. In the way that gears click forward, connecting with other gears moving backwards, all hidden behind a quiet face, so Harding lets George’s narrative unspool seamlessly.
Tinkers is a deceptively slender novel, yet holds the breadth of two full lives with a bittersweet intimacy. It is no surprise that, despite being Harding’s first book, it won the Pulitzer Prize. A quiet novel, there is no plot or pacing, only the gentle flow of these men moving through their lives as they converge and split apart. It is some of the most exquisitely conveyed writing I’ve ever read. At a time of year when hectic and harried are the norm it is meditative reading, soothing, calming, and profoundly centering.
Harding’s next book, Enon, follows George’s grandson on his harrowing journey after the loss of his daughter. It was one of my 5 star favorites for 2013.