TINKERS by Paul Harding

Book Quote:

“The porch was unpainted and its wood bleached to a silvery white. When the sky filled with clouds, it often turned the same silver color as the wood, so that it only seemed missing a grain to be wood and the wood only missing a breath of wind to stir it and turn it into sky.”

Book Review:

Review by Doug Bruns  (MAY 27, 2011)

I can honestly say that I have not read a book so evocative of place and time since reading anything by Faulkner.

“Nearly seventy years before George died, his father, Howard Aaron Crosby, drove a wagon for his living. It was a wooden wagon. It was a chest of drawers mounted on two axles and wooden spoked wheels. There were dozens of drawers, each fitted with a recessed brass ring, pulled open with a hooked forefinger, that contained brushes and wood oil, tooth powder and nylon stockings, shaving soap and straight-edge razors.”

See what I mean?

Tinkers picks up eight days before George Washington Crosby, a New England patriarch, expires. He is lying on a hospital bed in his living room, “right where they put the dining room table, fitted with its two extra leaves for holiday dinners.” He is surrounded by the antique clocks he collected and repaired, each tick-tock a motion closer to oblivion. His family, like his consciousness, comes and goes. He built the house in which he now rests. “The cracks in the ceiling widened into gaps. The locked wheels of his bed sank into new fault lines opening in the oak floor beneath the rug. At any moment the floor was going to give.” As he dies, the house and room dissolve, family members disappear. His fragile consciousness returns him to the hardscrabble existence of his upbringing in New England.

George’s father, Howard, was a tinker and traveling salesman. He plied his trade in the backwoods of Maine. He had a hard life. He was epileptic. Upon learning that his cold-hearted wife is going to have him institutionalized, he abandons his family, leaving George and his siblings. “His despair came from the fact that his wife saw him as a fool, as a useless tinker, a copier of bad verse from two-penny religious magazines, an epileptic, and could find no reason to turn her head and make him into something better.” The event–the abandonment–haunts and plagues George to his last breath. “…personal mysteries,” he thinks, “like where is my father, why can’t I stop all the moving and look out over the vast arrangements and find by the contours and colors and qualities of light where my father is, not to solve anything but just simply even to see it again one last time, before what, before it ends, before it stops. But it doesn’t stop; it simply ends.”

A good reviewer worth his or her salt, would not, should not, pad a review with so much lifting of prose, so many passages directly rendered. But I cannot help myself. The writing in this compact little book is so taut it hums like a drawn bowstring. The reader wonders, how such tension can so artfully be sustained? But sustained it remains, each paragraph more precisely constructed than the previous one.

Tinkers is Paul Harding’s first novel. The publisher, Bellevue Literary Press, had only been in business a couple of years when they brought it to market. The New York Times did not review the book, it being so far off the radar. (“Every now and then a good book completely passes us by,” Gregory Cowles wrote in the Arts section, a full year after publication.) It won the Pulitzer. Deservedly so. At a time when a thinking person might despair over the crassness and commercialization of, well, of virtually everything that matters, one finds hope and its reward in the tale of such talent realized. Indeed, all is not lost.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 331 readers
PUBLISHER: Bellevue Literary Press (January 1, 2009)
REVIEWER: Doug Bruns
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May 27, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Contemporary, Debut Novel, End-of-Life, Literary, NE & New York, Pulitzer Prize, y Award Winning Author

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