Book Review: Tinkers

Author: Paul Harding

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Copyright date: 2009

Pages: 192

Format: Literary Fiction

Reason for Reading: Last year’s Pulitzer winner

Rating: A

Award Won: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 2010

Summary (from the publisher):

An old man lies dying. Confined to bed in his living room, he sees the walls around him begin to collapse, the windows come loose from their sashes, and the ceiling plaster fall off in great chunks, showering him with a lifetime of debris: newspaper clippings, old photographs, wool jackets, rusty tools, and the mangled brass works of antique clocks. Soon, the clouds from the sky above plummet down on top of him, followed by the stars, till the black night covers him like a shroud. He is hallucinating, in death throes from cancer and kidney failure.

A methodical repairer of clocks, he is now finally released from the usual constraints of time and memory to rejoin his father, an epileptic, itinerant peddler, whom he had lost 7 decades before. In his return to the wonder and pain of his impoverished childhood in the backwoods of Maine, he recovers a natural world that is at once indifferent to man and inseparable from him, menacing and awe inspiring.

Tinkers is about the legacy of consciousness and the porousness of identity from one generation the next. At once heartbreaking and life affirming, it is an elegiac meditation on love, loss, and the fierce beauty of nature.

My thoughts:

Reading about a man’s last days could be depressing but you won’t find that in Tinkers. What you’ll find is a story of a man, George Crosby, that is so incredibly and beautifully written that you won’t be able to stop reading it.

As George lays in his bed his mind wanders in and out of nightmares. He dreams his house has fallen in on top of him. They reminded me of the nightmares I had when I was on morphine following my appendectomy. Bizarre dreams, but funny. George also remembers various parts of his life and in particular, his father.

George and his father have an innate ability to understand how mechanical things work and how they can be fixed. They have that kind of mind set. They love to tinker with things. Let me share a passage about reassembling a clock so you get an idea of how amazing Paul Harding’s writing is.

Each wheel and its arbor is inserted into its proper hole, beginning with the great wheel and its loose-fitting fusee, that grooved cone of wonder given to mankind by Mr. Da Vinci, and proceeding to the smallest, the teeth of one meshing with the gear collar of the next and so on until the flywheel of the strike train and the escape wheel of the going train are fitted into their rightful places. Now the horologist looks upon an open-faced, fairy-book contraption; gears lean to and fro like a lazy machine in a dream. The universe’s time cannot be marked thusly. Such a crooked and flimsy device could only keep the fantastic hours of unruly ghosts.

If I were writing about reassembling a clock, I would have done a lot of pointing and used words like thing-a-ma-jig. Mr. Harding can take a description about a clock and make it sound lyrical.

I find it difficult to adequately tell you how beautiful the book is. Parts of the story were heartbreaking but it did not make me sob. It was not the least bit maudlin. It’s a book you’ll want to read and then go back and read again. You’ll want to read parts out loud to your loved one, someone who appreciates the beauty and rhythm of words like the ones in this book.

About the author:

Paul Harding is both a musician and an author. He was a drummer for the band Cold Water Flat from 1990 to 1997. He grew up on the north shore of Boston, graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He’s taught at Iowa and Harvard. Tinkers is Paul Harding’s first novel. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, Tinkers also won the 2010 PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship for Writers.

About Margot

I'm also known as Joyfully Retired. I love to talk. I love to talk about books I've read, movies I've seen, places I've traveled to, people (especially my children and grandchildren), and Food. On the Quirky Girls Read blog I'm trying to read all the books that have won the major awards and then, of course, talk about them.
This entry was posted in Award Winners, Fiction, Posts by Margot and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Book Review: Tinkers

  1. jehara says:

    I liked your description of how you would describe fixing a clock. I agree that passage is very beautiful. I love when books can take a subject I’m not normally interested in and make me interested in by how well it is written. This is how I felt about The Art of Racing in the Rain. Don’t care about racing at all, but that book made me interested in it. Sounds like with Tinkers we have another keeper on our hands. Off to add it to the ever growing list. 😉

    • Margot says:

      Jehara, That is it exactly. I don’t care how clocks work either but I had to read that passage several times and read it out loud to my husband. You’ll love the way it’s written.

  2. izzybella says:


    If I were writing about reassembling a clock, I would have done a lot of pointing and used words like thing-a-ma-jig.

    Made me laugh. That is true for me as well. This sounds like something I need to add to the list.

  3. I always wonder how nervous it must make so one to achieve such a big honor on their first work. While, it must be beyond exciting just knowing what you have to live up to, yikes. This sounds like a simply wonderful book. Adding it to my list today. I have to add I like your clock fixing description too. I’m a big user of thing-a-ma-jig so always like to find a fellow user.

    • Margot says:

      I wondered too about how the author is handling his success. I read in an interview that the book sat in a drawer for three years as he had a hard time selling it. Bellevue Literary Press is a small publisher and they took a chance. It paid off big time. The last time a small press won a Pulitzer was sometime in the eighties.

  4. Amy says:

    Tinkers sounds amazing and inspirational. I like the simplicity of the story and the beautiful prose. When you write that George and his father like to tinker with things, that they know how things work, it’s their mind-set that also made me think about like generally, tinkering with it, figuring out how things work. I also love your comment that George’s hallucinations reminded you of how your nightmares on morphine after your appendectomy ~ I can relate to that & totally understand what you mean!
    This is a book I’ve wanted to read for a while now. I hope to do so soon!

  5. And yet another book to add to the TBR pile that is getting figuratively higher and higher.

    • Margot says:

      I know what you mean, Faith. If we could only carve out more hours in each day. I had this one on my Kindle which I carry everywhere. I was able to read this in lots of small batches and then I just had to spot and just appreciate the beauty of the writing. I highlighted and then went back and reread lots of portions.

  6. JoAnn says:

    I started this last year and was so impressed with the beauty of the writing. Unfortunately, it was the wrong time for me to read this type of book, so I put it aside. Now the timing would be better – thanks for reminding me!

    • Margot says:

      JoAnn – I can see how it would be easy to set this aside for a while. I debated with myself about it just after my mother died. But – it was actually comforting in a way, and positive about relationships and the beauty of life itself.

      • Bumbles says:

        That was a brave selection then on your part. I’m glad you were so beautifully rewarded for it. I’ve seen this title around because of its success – I didn’t know if had such sweet and personal prose. Thanks for the details.

  7. kaye says:

    nice review Margot, I’m going to put a star on this one so hopefully I’ll get to it. I love books that are beautifully written.

  8. BermudaOnion says:

    I’ve been on the fence about this one, but I totally trust Margot’s recommendations, so I’m adding it to my wish list.

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  11. Staci says:

    I loved reading your description and thoughts on this book. Not often do we come across a book about a father/son relationship that is so absorbing. Putting it on my list!

  12. stacybuckeye says:

    No other review has made me want to read this like yours, Margot. I’m not sure whether I should be thanking you or not since my wish list is alredy busting at spine!

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  14. Tea Norman says:

    I would like to read Tinkers. Thanks.

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  16. Libby says:

    I reviewed ‘Tinkers’ on my blog too. I am googling other people’s reviews to see how they described the book because it is so unusual. I think that you did a really good job here focusing on as you said, “the beauty and rhythm of words” rather than just summarizing the plot. The almost poetic nature of the book is what struck me too.

  17. Pingback: Izzybella Remembers 2011 (or We Owe It All to Jehara) |

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