Review: Tinkers by Paul Harding
Author: Paul Harding
Genre: Literary Fiction
Release Date: January 1st, 2009
Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press
Source: Personal Copy
Have you ever finished a book, liked it, but didn't even know where to begin when writing a review? That's exactly how I feel about Tinkers. This little story is quiet and subtle, yet so lyrical. At first I was a little bored at the lack of linear plot, but once I let myself focus on the language I was completely enthralled, often turning back, re-reading, and lingering on passages until I felt I had them completely absorbed. So much attention was focused on description, from simple things, like a painting on George's wall, to intricate things, such as nature's beauty. Paul Harding, an unknown author who's unknown work won the Pulitzer, creates such a complex, impressionistic narrative that it's difficult to compose my thoughts eloquently, but here goes.
The opening of the book finds a sick and hallucinating George Washington Crosby lying on a rented hospital bed in the middle of his living room while his family surrounds him. In his final days, George's mind travels in a non-chronological path through his history and memories. The 80-year-old grandfather revisits his disturbing childhood as the son of an epileptic traveling salesman and a young, strict, and cold mother in rural New England . Now begins the descent into a world of isolation, loss, and mortality.
Many of the memories the reader is privy to are told through the viewpoint of George's father, Howard. I thought the descriptions of the experience and pain an epileptic seizure causes for him were some of the most powerful scenes in the book.
Cold hopped onto the tips of his toes and rode on the ripples of the ringing throughout his body until his teeth clattered and his knees faltered and he had to hug himself to keep from unraveling.It is this pain and the community's ignorance surrounding his affliction that causes Howard to make the choices he does. Much of the conflict and heartbreak for father and son could have been avoided with a little education. I can see why a medical press had interest in publishing this work.
The actual seizure was when the bolt touched flesh, and in an instant so atomic, so nearly immaterial, nearly incorporeal, that there was almost no before and after... Howard became pure, unconscious energy.
I definitely recommend Tinkers for anyone with a love of linguistics. However, this little novel can be deceptive. It is not an easy read and, contrary to the short length, cannot be finished quickly. The characters and plot suffered a bit at the expense of such dense, complex language and lengthy descriptions of mundane items, so I don't think it's something the casual reader would enjoy. Overall, I thought it was an excellent commentary on memory, missed connections, and our own humanity.
Also, there is an excellent interview with Paul Harding done by Open Loop Press. It offers some great insight into the author's thoughts and writing style during the composition of Tinkers.