Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press
Copyright date: 2009
Format: Literary Fiction
Reason for Reading: Last year’s Pulitzer winner
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.
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.