Monday, December 05, 2011

Review: Tinkers by Paul Harding

Paul Harding
192 pages
Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press
Release Date: January 2009

"George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died."

And so starts one of the best books I've read in a long time.  Tinkers is the short, Pulitzer Prize winning, debut novel by Paul Harding.  In 2009 it came out of nowhere, published by a small press, barely reviewed anywhere (or at least, at any length) and then all of a sudden OMG PULITZER!

This is a dense little book.

On the surface, Tinkers details the final hours of George Crosby's life as he reflects on his past.  The story is told from two perspectives.  There's George, in the present, as he lays in his sickbed - a "rented hospital bed, placed in the middle of his own living room." As George's consciousness shifts, we see the story of his youth from the perspective of Howard, his epileptic father.  Howard deserts his family (including young George) and later we get to see Howard as a boy, dealing with the disappearance his own father.

But this is just structure.  The meat of this thing is just so... amazing.

The prose itself is so good that sometimes I felt myself sucking in and reading and re-reading again, just to savor the words and the depth and the lyrical flow of it all.  For example, this passage is pretty indicative of what you'll find in Tinkers:
Howard, instead of trying to explain the hermit's existence in terms of hearth fires and trappers' shacks, preferred the blank space the old man actually seemed to inhabit; he liked to think of some fold in the woods, some seam that only the hermit could sense and slip into, where the ice and snow, where the frozen forest itself, would accept him and he would no longer need fire or wool blankets, but instead flourish wreathed in snow, spun in frost, with limbs like cold wood and blood like frigid sap.
And there's this one too:
A wind would come up through the trees, sounding like a chorus, so like a breath then, so sounding like a breath, the breath of thousands of souls gathering itself up somewhere in the timber lining the bowls and depressions behind the worn mountains the way thunderstorms did and crawling up their backs of them the way the thunderstorms did, too, which you couldn't hear, quite, but felt barometrically-a contraction or flattening as of tone as everything compressed in front of it, again, which you couldn't see, quite, but instead could almost see the result of-water flattening, so the light coming off of it shifted angles, the grass stiffening, so it went from green to silver, the swallows flitting over the pond all being pushed forward and then falling back to their original positions as they corrected for the change, as if the wind were sending something in front of it.

There's a lot about clocks and clock repair and many passages from a fictional 1783 work called The Reasonable Horologist, by the Rev. Kenner Davenport.  As I was reading Tinkers, I figured that the clock analogy pretty clearly captures the arc of the novel.  Howard's father acts as the mainspring, providing the coiled energy that powers the wheels and gears (that's Howard) and is finally spent on the escape wheel (George).

Tinkers was an amazing reading experience.  It's already on my re-read list and I think it's a book that I'll revisit every few years.  If you like beautiful writing, lovingly constructed characters and a truly wonderful reading experience then I highly recommend it.

Rating: 10/10

Book Source: purchased

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