Tinkers

by Paul Harding

Paperback, 2009

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Bellevue Literary Press, 2009.

Description

On his deathbed, surrounded by his family, George Washington Crosby's throughts drift back to his childhood and the father who abandoned him when he was twelve.

Media reviews

"There are few perfect debut American novels. Walter Percy's The Moviegoer and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird come to mind. So does Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping. To this list ought to be added Paul Harding's devastating first book, Tinkers, the story of a dying man drifting back in time to his hardscrabble New England childhood, growing up the son of his clock-making father. Harding has written a masterpiece around the truism that all of us, even surrounded by family, die alone."
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The occasional overwriting, the looping narrative, and the almost defiant lack of plot made this a hard book to sell to publishers. An array of editors at major houses rejected the novel, no doubt afraid it would never sell. It apparently sat for several years in the writer's desk. Then an obscure house, the Bellevue Literary Press, published it to such little fanfare that the New York Times (like most papers) ignored it completely. Then, miracle of miracles, it won the Pulitzer.
Among the many triumphs of this novel, Harding enables a reader to look at the world differently, without the things that normally encumber experience. Tinkers is a considerable achievement.
Its prose is complex, sometimes convoluted, but at its best suffused with brilliantly realised imagery and a reminder of how rich the written language can still be.
"In Paul Harding's stunning first novel, we find what readers, writers and reviewers live for: a new way of seeing, in a story told as a series of ruminative images, like a fanned card deck."
In Harding’s skillful evocation, Crosby’s life, seen from its final moments, becomes a mosaic of memories, “showing him a different self every time he tried to make an assessment.”
Tinkers is a novel rich in close observation, short in dialogue and event. While normally this would be a cloying combination, the sharp richness of Harding's language and the precision of his descriptions makes the novel both transfixing and compelling.

User reviews

LibraryThing member brenzi
Sometimes, all it takes for me to discover a good book is for it to win a prize. Any prize will do, as I’m addicted to the prize winners, but when it’s the Pulitzer Prize there aren’t many that I haven’t read. Tinkers, the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner did not disappoint. It is a nostalgic tale of a dying man’s remembrance of his father.

George Crosby is near death and surrounded by family members as he drifts in and out of consciousness. The author weaves a sad, mournful story moving back and forth in time, revealing George’s life and the life of his father, Howard Aaron Crosby. We learn everything through George’s thoughts and through a notebook that George kept, read by his grandson.

Howard Crosby was a tinker or mender. He traveled with a horse drawn wagon through rural New England selling odds and ends, as the author explains on page 11:

“His father drove a wagon for a 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. There were drawers with shoe shine and boot strings, broom handles and mop heads. There was a secret drawer where he kept four bottles of gin. Mostly back roads were his route, dirt tracks that ran into the deep woods to hidden clearings where a log cabin sat among sawdust and tree stumps and a woman in a plain dress and hair pulled back so tight that she looked as if she were smiling (which she was not) stood in a crooked doorway with a cocked squirrel gun.”

Howard suffered from an aggressive form of epilepsy, which would overcome him with electric force. When George is twelve, his father's epilepsy forces him to make a decision that affects the family for the rest of their lives.

George himself was a tinker of sorts too. He built the house he lived in from the ground up and he did love tinkering with old clocks. He loved the precision of clockworks and at the end, is surrounded by many of the antique clocks that he has restored. In his last hours he notices that none of the clocks have been re-wound, just another symptom of the chaos that surrounds him now, not at all the precision he knows and loves.

The story is filled with sad remembrances, eccentric characters, wonderful vignettes and oh, yes, the most luscious prose you’ll find anywhere. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member TheTwoDs
I've often wondered what a perfect piece of descriptive writing would feel like. I need wonder no more. Paul Harding's Tinkers uses such precisely honed prose to describe the incredible beauty most of us miss in the day to day goings on of the world that I found myself re-reading passages to be transfixed by the aesthetics. Touching on themes of dying, grief, forgiveness, illness and family, the book is a small, but powerful, meditation on the small things that make life worth living. At times reading like a prose poem, Harding wields the English language like a master swordsman, leaving the reader in awe, almost unable to believe that someone could describe something so clearly; Nabokov would be most proud. The book is that rare treat which describes such minute details so perfectly, in such a precise setting, yet manages to speak to us all. Consider this passage, reminiscing of building and sailing toy boats:

"What of miniature boats constructed of birch bark and fallen leaves, launched onto cold water clear as air? How many fleets were pushed out toward the middles of ponds or sent down autumn brooks holding treasures of acorns, or black feathers, or a puzzled mantis? Let those grassy crafts be listed alongside the iron hulls that cleave the sea, for they are all improvisations built from the daydreams of men, and all will perish, whether from ocean siege or October breeze." (pp. 77-78)

Rare is the book which can make a man weep, but Tinkers is that powerful. It is so universal it speaks to everyone, yet I know it is meant for me. I look forward to future works from Mr. Harding.
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LibraryThing member Donna828
The writing in this mosaic of memories of a dying man is pure poetry. And, like most poetry, I have to really stretch myself to find meaning in it. I struggled with the rambling narrative, especially when entire sections of an old clock repair manual were quoted. It's understandable that George's own memories were entangled with memories of his father, Howard, whose epileptic seizures had such a profound effect on the family. I enjoyed Howard's recollections of what it was like growing up as the son of a Methodist minister who drifted into insanity. But the transitions between the three generations of the Crosby family were so abrupt that the family tree ends up with some missing branches!

Bottom line? Read this book for the sublime writing. I reveled in Harding's intense descriptions of places and events. These meditations are deep, and the struggle I had to make sense of the jumble of memories was well worth the effort it took. I can't stress enough that the beauty of this book is in the divine writing. If you want plot, don't look to this little gem.
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LibraryThing member ironinklings
This remarkable first novel is a testament to the power of observation. Tinkers is an examination of the relationships between fathers and sons. George Washington Crosby, who repairs clocks for a living, is on his deathbed. As his life begins slowing down just as his clocks begin to lose time and eventually stop, Crosby returns to his childhood. Memories of his father, a traveling salesman and epileptic, begin to fill his mind. Crosby’s father may not have been the most lucrative man, but he had an amazing sense of the world around him and his relationship to nature is almost ecstatic. The reader can work through the layers of meaning throughout the book just as George Washington Crosby works through the delicate workings of his clocks. While Harding’s novel is gorgeously written, his poignant attempts at understanding characters that are hard to pin down makes this novel a true work of art.… (more)
LibraryThing member dchaikin
This year’s Pulitzer Prize winner, I had some trouble with it because I just assumed that after Proust, other books would be easier to read. This isn’t easy. The lyrical writing is pleasant, beautiful, but Harding wanders off into metaphors, and prose and suddenly I found myself reading the same paragraph three or four times, putting the book down, coming back to give it another try and failing and putting it down again, and then finally finding the right mindset and getting enough of it to work through. On top of that, Harding never tells us anything regarding a point. We have to figure all that out, and I can confidently say I haven’t done that. But I liked it quite a bit and on closing (it’s a conclusive ending, it doesn’t just hang) I found myself going back to the beginning and skimming the 1st third of the book over again in one sitting…I’ve never done this, I didn’t even do this with Infinite Jest, a book which pretty much demands it.

Anyway, George Washington Crosby, retired and having spent years becoming an expert in repairing antique clocks, which involves a great deal of tinkering, is on his deathbed in his home surrounded by his family. As he lies there dying, he drifts between reality, memory and hallucination, exploring his own father, Howard…Except Howard also narrates, and it’s not clear whether this is really Howard, or this is inside George’s head. Howard, a wandering salesman and an epileptic, becomes the real theme – at least at stretches.

This is a beautiful and complicated little book where everything lies very softly on both the readers and characters, regardless of their trauma. As far as I got it, it was a really nice experience; but, somehow it lacked that fundamental something for me to hold on to. I really didn’t know where to mentally store it, and sadly, it has drifted away.
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LibraryThing member agnesmack
Tinkers was a gift from my mother for my half birthday and, it turns out, a gift from Mr. Harding as well.

The novel begins: “George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died.” While the story is told from the viewpoint of George on his deathbed, it weaves in and out of time, from the story of his epileptic father, whose seizures are proceeded by the feeling and taste of lightening, to George’s minister grandfather and through some of George’s childhood memories.

I finished this book only an hour ago and immediately went to read reviews of it. I was surprised to see that, despite having won the 2010 Pulitzer, it had mostly mediocre reviews on Amazon. Most of the complaints were that ‘nothing every happened’ and ‘there was no plot’.

Both are true, but that’s what made this story so beautiful. It wasn’t a story that felt crafted by an author, though the prose was lyrical and delicious. It wasn’t complicated. It wasn’t a story of what happens to people. It wasn’t even a story of who those people were. It was simply a story of what people choose to do with what’s given to them.

George’s father was a small time door to door salesman, traveling via a horse and buggy. Much of the story was the recounting of things that once were fixed, that we are now quick to discard. Clocks, clothing, furniture… things that are now considered disposable that once were worth mending.

Though, during the same time frame that we’re following George’s father helping to mend the broken possessions of his neighbors and customers, his father was himself thrown away. As he aged and his seizures became more violent and severe, the only thing to be done with him was to send him to a home for the criminally insane.

I really don’t know how to put into words what I learned from this book or what I thought about it. For me, reading this book was an experience. It touched me more deeply than anything I’ve read in a long time. This is a book that deserves being re-read, and I have every intention of doing so.

From a review by Elizabeth McCracken: “Paul Harding’s Tinkers is not just a novel – though it is a brilliant novel. It’s an instruction manual on how to look at nearly everything.”
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LibraryThing member jasonpettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

Ah, literary awards -- what would we book nerds do without them? In fact, this has quickly grown in the last decade into a fascinating subject for me, ever since becoming a book reviewer and officially entering the edges of the "industry" known as literature, of the curious ways that artistic awards both come about and gain their legitimacy, the official and unofficial ways they influence the culture going on around them, sometimes by the titles they pick and sometimes by the even more important rebellions in the arts that form because of what they picked. Just take for example the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, considered by many to be perhaps the second or third most "important" literary award on the planet*, and how this year they chose an almost completely obscure basement-press book by an unknown writer to win it all, Paul Harding's Tinkers on Bellevue Literary Press, which has ignited a firestorm of controversy not only over the pick itself but what it says about the current state of the industry. See, it all started with an attention-getting review of the novel by my alt-lit blogging colleagues over at Bookslut.com (which I think is fair to call the most well-known independent litblog on the planet right now); and this got the attention of someone at The New Yorker, who also ended up favorably reviewing it, which happened at the same time that a book buyer in San Francisco happened to recommend it to a buddy at National Public Radio, which then snowballed and snowballed until becoming a few months ago the darkest horse in the history of dark-horse Pulitzer winners.

So given that this is the first time in history that a blog started the process of a book eventually winning the Pulitzer, many people in the industry are now wondering if this marks an official "passing of the torch," concrete proof that blogs for intellectuals are rapidly overtaking traditional lit journals in terms of reach and influence; but at the same time, given how nakedly nepotistic this process proved to be, it also calls into question whether the "good ol' egghead network" is still in place but simply in a different form, and whether the Pulitzer for decades now has not really denoted the "best book of the year" at all, but is simply an excuse for a small circle of well-connected academic elites to basically jerk each other off once a year (an accusation that has plagued the Pulitzer committee for years, but was especially blatant in this case). And then by picking such a literally unknown book (it had sold less than a thousand copies on the planet before its win) by such a literally unknown writer (this is Harding's very first novel on top of everything else), it's also brought up the question of what the Pulitzer exactly denotes in the first place, whether it literally is supposed to represent merely the technically best manuscript of the last twelve months or if it should also subtly be a comment on a writer's entire career, and the overall effect they've had on general society, like what the more prestigious Nobel Prize does explicitly.

Whew -- that's a lot of questions for a book that's less than 200 large-type pages, and can be read in a single day! And in fact this is one of the very first things you notice about Tinkers when you sit down to read it, like I myself did last week -- that especially when you consider its subject matter, it's actually more a long novella than it is a full novel, immediately calling into question before even reading the first page whether such a manuscript should even be in the running for "best book of the year." And speaking of that storyline, that's another early obstacle for the book to overcome, that it features barely any plot to speak of, besides the sketchy idea that as a genteel elderly New Englander slowly dies, he has a series of flashbacks to isolated incidents from his impossibly charming rural youth, examining the relationship he had with his father and how they were both known for their love of "tinkering around" with things. As such, then, the book many times comes off less like a unified three-act novel and more like a slapped-together series of abandoned short stories; and while I understand that such a thing is tolerated and even sometimes loved by the academes who pick each year's winner, it again calls into question before even starting of whether such a book should even really be in the running in the first place for "best of the year."

In fact, once you start reading it, it becomes clear that Tinkers is a book that only academes could love, and that they're going to love it expressly for academic reasons -- because it features fancy writing that deliberately calls attention to itself, for example, because it concentrates much more on character than on plot, because it features that inexplicably popular theme among professors, the whiny small-town loser who constantly complains in these vague ways about their do-nothing life. And again, that's fine for what it is, and I've been known to occasionally enjoy such books myself, but it calls into question whether such a non-entity of a story should really be considered the best book of the year, not to mention the more general question of just how much of such literary finery should be considered too much literary finery. I mean, here's a typical sentence from the book, culled from the hundreds of two- and three-page single paragraphs found throughout, and you can tell me what exactly you think of it --

"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 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."

Grating your teeth yet? No? Is your English Department hiring?

Just so there's no mistake, let me admit that I did end up liking Tinkers, and came across lots of little stories within it that I was thoroughly charmed by -- for a good example, the whole story about the crazed hillbilly in the woods during our elderly narrator's youth, who it turned out after his death had actually been a classmate of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and who owned a signed, first-edition copy of The Scarlet Letter that he had kept carefully bundled in a hole in the ground out by the cave he lived in his entire life. But I have to confess, I found this far from the best of the 150 books published in 2009 that I've now read, and I'm fairly certain wouldn't have even made my top-twenty list last year if I had read it when it first came out; and that's a real shame, because just as I believe in CCLaP's mission to highlight unknown books you might never otherwise hear of, so too do I believe in occasionally celebrating the literal best of what our industry has to offer each year as well, which is the real goal of the Pulitzer, a job I feel that they really just failed at this particular year. Although it gets a limited recommendation today, especially among academes and those who like academic literature, it's not a book I recommend going out of your way to pick up, and is a winner I suspect will be quickly forgotten by history at large.

Out of 10: 8.0

*Most people agree that the Nobel Prize is the most prestigious and therefore most "important" literary award on the planet; but among English speakers, there is then much debate over what comes next, the American Pulitzer Prize or the UK Booker Prize (which is not to even mention all the various national awards in other languages, which can be considered on the same level). Below that then might be considered such mid-tier honorifics as the National Book Award, Orange Prize, PEN/Faulkner Award and National Book Critics Circle Award; then below this in prestige would be the various top prizes for different genre books out there, crime-novel Edgars and horror-novel Stokers and sci-fi Hugos and the like, as well as small-press awards such as the Pushcart Prize.
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LibraryThing member DetailMuse
Tinkers is an eight-day deathwatch as George Crosby succumbs to kidney cancer.

He’s surrounded by living relatives -- his sister, wife and children; but this novel is incredibly evocative of men, and I was touched by the passages where his grandsons keep watch. And then the special interest comes from the narrative also being inhabited by dead relatives -- George’s father (a horse-and-cart era rural peddler with severe epilepsy) and grandfather (a Methodist preacher) -- and it’s unclear where they are ... in George’s mind? in an omniscient narrator? in a diary a grandson reads?

The details are quietly and purposefully chosen, for example, that George was a clock repairman and the story covers eight days -- the time it takes a traditional clock’s mainspring to wind down. And the language is wonderful, be it the experience of a seizure or this description of a clock:

...a clock supposedly seen in eastern Bohemia that had the likeness of a great oak tree wrought in iron and brass around its dial. As the seasons of its homeland changed, the branches of the tree turned a thousand tiny copper leaves, each threaded on a hair-thin spindle, from enameled green to metallic red. Then, by astounding mechanisms within the case {…} the branches released the leaves to spiral down their threads and strew themselves about the lower part of the clock-face.

I'll definitely re-read; there’s so much in this short novel still to discover and understand.
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LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
This is a book that unfolds its riches slowly: you start out thinking it's latter-day Faulkneriana about a bunch of poor rural saps built for sadness, and if you're me at that point you think hard about putting the book down right then and there since you feel like what most of us--you yourself fall into this category, certainly--need more is a book about what people built for happiness do when sadness comes. But that book is still out there, no doubt, and besides, there's room for more than one book in a life. So you don't put it down, and gradually the extraordinary delicate brutality of some of the first vignettes (the father pulling out the old hermit's tooth; the son putting a wooden spoon, and then inadvertently his fingers, twixt the father's clenched jaws during his first epileptic fit) put down roots and twine together into a mood of othersidedness, by which I mean to call up both "the only way out is through" and "the reverse side has a reverse side," and also the far bank of the Styx and the Lethe, life and death bound up with memory and forgetting. The third part is a father–son reunion that flits in and out of reality via some tender, sad psychic pocket dimension. It is exceptional and the whole book's only like 110 pages and it's worth it even if you find the earlier part irritating, but which although I sometimes did, many of you won't.… (more)
LibraryThing member lansum
This is proof positive that just because a novel has won the Pulitzer Prize doesn't make it a compelling read. It covers the lives and deaths of a father and son (and a little about the grandfather) in the first half of the 20th century. There are descriptive passages of nature, with ethereal, ghostly touches. It's a short read, but if you find yourself wanting to give up about half-way through, keep reading for a few more pages--it gets better. Unless you're in a college English class and have to write a paper, skip this one.… (more)
LibraryThing member msf59
Up in New England, George Crosby is dying. The old man is reclining in a rented hospital bed, placed in the center of his living room. He is suffering hallucinations but in his more lucid moments, his memory trails back to his boyhood and his recollections of his father. This is where the story shines, as we are introduced to Howard Crosby. He is a “tinker”, driving a wagon, led by an old mule, combing the back roads, selling his wares and performing small repairs. He does not own this business, so he makes little money, but still delivers a reliable and honest service and his isolated customers, grow to depend on him. Howard’s story is filled with wonderful vignettes and is beautifully written, like this passage: “The Storm came up from behind the mountain, shrouding the peak. Lightning crawled down the mountain and drank at the water, lapped the shallows with electric tongues, stunning bolt-eyed frogs and small trout and silver minnows. Thunder cracked like falling timber and shook the cabin as it clapped the water skin.”
Unfortunately, when the narrative returns to George and other meanderings, it loses some of it’s power and focus but is still a worthy read and I recommend it, mainly for Howard’s journey and it’s stunning prose.
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LibraryThing member sarah-e
This is a heartbreaking and fascinating story of a man's death. As the main character dies he thinks about his father, his childhood, and his hobby.

The real brilliance of Tinkers is in the words. Open the book to any page and the words create a magnificent world. Harding intricately shows how the characters' defining moments and most illustrative qualities shape one another and prepare the main character for his final days.

I found personal importance in this book. It is lovely, compact, and worth the read.
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LibraryThing member andreablythe
I can accept this book, I suppose, as an extended prose poem. It has the dense imagery and dreamlike quality of a poem, scenes shifting between person, place, time with little or no transition. It's a book more focused on it's own poetic language than on plot, more on ideas than on people, with the people only really serving as a framework for philosophical exploration. The language is often beautiful, but is sometimes hard to follow. This is a book that's requires analysis and deciphering, a book that requires extra mental work to get through and make sense of.

The story, such as it is, centers more or less on George, who is on his deathbed as an old man. Hallucinations begin to mix with flashes of his life and with long pondering on the nature of the universe and of life and death.

It also explores the life of his father, Howard, who had epilepsy and was a salesman and journeyed through the backwoods with a donkey and a cart to sell to the people who lived far from town. While the story is supposed to be mostly about George, it's Howard that we really gain a greater understanding of, a greater sense of who he is as a person. But even that sense is emotionally distant due to the density of the language.

Tinkers is especially hard to follow on audio book, because the scenes switch fairly often and it's not always clear that it moved on to a new section, at first, and there were times that because of this I mixed up whether the narrator was talking about George's life or Howard's (though maybe that's partly the point, since their lives are paralleled).

While I like how the threads ultimately weaved together at the end, I'm not sure I love the book as a whole. I might read it again later on in print format, so that I can really revel in the language, like I do with poetry, because it's the language and structure that really make the story worthwhile.
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LibraryThing member TimBazzett
THIS book won the PULITZER PRIZE for fiction??!! What were they THINKing? What did they SEE here that I didn't? Because I saw a mess. There were the makings of perhaps several novels here, none of them realized or developed. While it's true there are some beautiful lines wrapped throughout the "novel," none of them ever really come together to create an aesthetically pleasing whole. I put novel in quotation marks here, because I'm wondering if maybe this is some "new" kind of experimental fiction - ??

I bought this book because a couple of friends told me about it - about how it was about this old man dying, and that it had just won the Pulitzer. I had immediate visions of a book equal to, or perhaps even better than, Peter Pouncey's beautifully wrought novel about an old man, Rules for Old Men Waiting. And I also thought of last year's Pulitzer fiction winner, Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout. Both of those books have become favorites of mine that I recommend whenever I can. Perhaps I should have been suspicious when one of those friends added that it had never taken her so long to read such a short book. Because she was right. Tinkers is perhaps the loooooongest 191-page novel I have ever read. In fact, after nearly a week of picking it up and putting it down, I became afraid it would never end. I wanted to just chuck it and be done with it, but I kept thinking, "This book won the Pulitzer; it must get better." I was wrong. It didn't. But it finally did mercifully end, and in a not very interesting fashion. I'm sorry. This book is simply NOT Pulitzer material. I just lost faith in that selection committee.
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LibraryThing member kglavin
Is this the most riveting book ever written? No.

But then, the Pulitzer Committee is not searching for a roller-coaster thriller likely to be forgotten when finished. According to its guidelines, for its fiction award, it is looking:

"For distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life..."

Paul Harding's "Tinkers" is definitely distinguished, commanding the respect of the reader long afterward.

The novel is also distinctly American--set in New England, it echoes the great works of the American Romantics, building upon them in a new and powerful way. Hawthorne's "Scarlet Letter" is referred to explicitly with great panache. I also felt echoes of Hawthorne's classic short story, "Roger Malvin's Burial," a tale about unkept promises and familial loss upon the early American frontier (but perhaps that was my own reader-response).

Harding's book retraces the New England landscape of this same American frontier--some centuries later--obliquely. As various tropes surfaced throughout the work, such as hieroglyphics, I was reminded of Emerson's "Nature," which also made use of the trope (it was common in a lot of literature of the Romantics--especially after the news of the discovery of the Rosetta Stone). Just as Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, and other American Romantics would explore the deep, ineffable mysteries of Nature, so does Harding, with poetic symbolism, in this modern, transcendentalist masterpiece.

That said, don't get too worked up if the novel doesn't make perfect sense on the first read. It is not written chronologically. Instead, Harding writes in Emersonian circles, so to speak; the narrative shifts about, eventually receding deeper and deeper into the past--into the pain, joy, and wonder of being human--even as life is ebbing away. This novel works its magic on the reader--the audience feels a true connection. That is, we leave the world of fiction, walking away down the paths of our own lives, contemplating what is most precious as this ephemeral dream speeds by.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
I have a feeling that I might have enjoyed this book more at a different time and in a different place. I was on a post-Christmas visit to family, had finished the book I brought with me, couldn't find anything worth reading in their house, and was at the mercy of the small airport book dealer to find something to read on the flight home and during a long stopover. I couldn't find a single thing on the shelves of interest that I hadn't already read or that wasn't sitting at home. Tinkers had been loved by several of my LT friends, so I decided to give it a try. Take it from me, it's not a book to breeze through during air travel time. It's a densely written, contemplative novel, and, if you're anything like me, the last thing you want to read on a plane is something philosophical that relies more on style than on content. It didn't exactly make the time go faster! Keep all this in mind if you're considering reading this much-acclaimed novel: I wouldn't want anyone to turn away from it when my review might have been much more positive under different circumstances.

So let me say first that the writing in Tinkers is indeed mighty fine. The story is told from two perspectives, that of the dying George Crosby and that of his father, Howard. Howard, an epileptic tinker, disappeared one day when he figured out that his wife was about to send him to a home for the insane, and George has been haunted all his life by the loss of his father. Interspersed are excerpts from an 18th century book on clock repair (George repairs clocks) and George's journal on local trees.

Harding does a remarkable job of getting into the minds of both men; his language is understated, evocative, and memorable. The novel reminded me of a cross between Margaret Atwood's Surfacing, which I read and loved long, long ago, and Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, an overblown, overrated novel that I absolutely detested.

So please take my three-star rating at face value and read the novel if it sounds appealing from what you've read elsewhere.
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LibraryThing member RobinDawson
This is a brilliant book – absolutely in the same space as Marilynne Robinson – gentle, reflective, beautiful language, close observations of people and places, a delight in the simple and true – and not the least concerned with the usual issues of urban living or city life.

It reminded me a little of 'Rules for Old Men Waiting' – but that old man was looking back on his relationships with a family he loved. It also reminded me of 'Out Stealing Horses' – and of course 'Gilead'.

The opening scene is of an old man (George Washington Crosby in New England) close to death; he has these haunting visions that the ceiling and the roof are caving in on him. In his last days George reflects on his father’s life as a tinker, and even his grandfather is included. ( The gr’father was a pastor , so as with Robinson’s novels we have a religious dimension. ) The dying man himself had been a watch repairer …. and like an old clock his own mechanism is wearing out with age. It’s a reflection on time, life, death and memory - big issues, but what makes it special are the many small scenes presented in exquisite detail. He shows a great love of language. There are some terrific descriptions of his father’s epilepsy.

But…… Harding sure also loves a long sentence.... on & on. At times I just lost my way. He also loves lists – that at times added little. I found the earlier sections which focus on George and his father engrossing but in the final quarter I started to skim. Perhaps George was cutting loose from his moorings, but it became too vague and wafty.
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LibraryThing member auntmarge64
This short novel, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer for fiction, sketches an old man's thoughts, memories, and hallucinations as he dies surrounded by family and friends. We learn of his own life and that of his father, a peddler, and grandfather, a minister, in rural Maine. Some of the writing is gorgeous and some very difficult, and there are parts which should be read aloud or very slowly just to savor the words. Little passages, such the instructions on how to build a birds' nest (using tools shaped like a bird's tiny beak) and the descriptions of the father's experiences of grand mal seizures, are stunning in their artistry. The book really needs to be read more than once, I think.… (more)
LibraryThing member asawyer
I really wanted to like this book... it started off well, but then fell apart (much like the watches he tinkered with). At times, the writing is beautiful and the mini-stories engaging. But as a friend of mine described, it was "words, words, words, beautiful writing, words, words, words, engaging story, words, words, words, words, ..."
Three generations of men, all with intermixed points of view, facing death. Great writing at times, but this wasn't enough to make a compelling or even readable story to me. Maybe if I read it 3 or 4 times I would "get it", but I can't imagine spending one more minute with this book. Don't understand why it was a Pulitzer!
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LibraryThing member BlackSheepDances
Winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize
Maybe it’s the lower-case small font and nearly colorless cover of this novel that had me thinking that this was a quiet novel. I imagined it being somewhat quaint and simple, and began reading it with that in mind. The cover is possibly the only simple thing about this unique and lovely book. There are many threads throughout it: fatherhood, family, and time being foremost. But the mysterious elements of regret, personality, and love also wind through. It’s complicated without being tangled.
The first half of the book is a sort of parallel account of father and son, each from their perspectives and in their own voices. Howard, the father, is an epileptic who travels the countryside selling his wares. He watches over his family as best he can, with a particular fascination for his oldest son. At one point, his son runs away:
“There was a moment of sorrow, disappointment, and deep love for his son, whom he at that second wished had had a chance of real escape…I just wish that you had made it beyond the bounds of this cold little radius…”
George, his son, enters the story as an elderly man, in the week preceding his death, hallucinating about his life, his childhood, and his love for clocks. The thoughts alternate from one character to the other, but in real life they seldom had a conversation. Clearly, though, they were on each other’s mind. Details of their work, always involving small and seeming insignificant parts that lead to a complex whole, fill the narrative.
A change occurs though, in the middle of the book, that is ominous and painful and takes the story into a new direction. Suddenly the visual images change from small metal workings to descriptions of light, water, and landscapes. In this portion, the reader goes back further to Howard’s father, whose own mysterious existence now becomes the focus of Howard in his later years. The flashbacks are not confusing in this context, as happens in some novels, because the tightly woven threads of the narrative keep you in place. There’s almost a haunting feeling as you near the end, as you realize the implication of the events in the story.
“A move of the head, a step to the left or right, and we change from wise, decent, loyal people to conceited fools? Light changes, our eyes blink and see the world from the slightest difference of perspective and our place in it has changed infinitely…”
Harding describes his characters beautifully: full of contradictions, flawed, sometimes foolish, and yet often hopeful. At the same time, he describes one with a particular sort of rage and hatred that is masked by indifference. The contrast is chilling. This is by no means a suspense novel, but trying to understand the motives of some characters creates a sense of apprehension. An acknowledgement of the relics we carry, both literal and emotional, plays into the personal impact of the story. Some moments are unimaginably painful, and yet real: the family gathered before George’s death turns off all his ticking clocks, his life’s collection, because the sound is annoying to them. While he, in his semi-conscious state, realizes that without the ticking, time has essentially stopped, and his suffering is worsened with the loss. Little details like this mean you need to keep the Kleenex handy. And be prepared: you’ll want to hug your Dad and tell him that he means something to you.
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LibraryThing member mikewick
Nature is an unknown factor in our lives; while we have tried to tame it, to understand it wholly, nature always comes back with a destructive violence or a majestic beauty, an unexplained phenomenon that halts humanity's hubris. The same can be said of human nature, that we'll never know the effects our lives will have on others. With his Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Tinkers" Paul Harding examines the lives of three successive generations of men, and seeks to describe the impact of the unknowable human nature on their families. Interweaving the narratives of their lives--inner and outer--Harding effortlessly moves between the ages and the minds with an exactness that left me stunned. Encountering the moments in our lives when we feel a profound sense of connectedness to the greater mysteries is difficult enough, but tackling these ethereal experiences and putting them to words is a remarkable feat. My favorite moment came at the end of the novel (no spoilers here, I promise) when he wrote "We sensed, finally, the foolishness of attributing the unknown to secret cabals, to conspiracies. Everything was almost always obscure. Understanding shown when it did, for no discernable reason, and we were content." Amen to that.… (more)
LibraryThing member Schmerguls
Since I have read every Pulitzer fiction prize-winner I read this. It tells of a guy dying and gives flashbacks of his life and his father's and grandfather's, and is a jumbled up mess, with much talk of clocks. I found it totally non-absorbing and was glad when I came to the last page.
LibraryThing member bobbieharv
The writing is amazing, especially for a first novel, but I found myself wishing for more of a plot. It's a very measured, careful portrayal of George, who is in the process of dying, and his father. I'm very much looking forward to Harding's next novel, which I hope will be more like the last 20 or 30 pages of this - exquisite writing, and finally something happened!… (more)
LibraryThing member emlzcole
Don't even bother ... not worth the day it takes to read it ... pretentious and absurd.
LibraryThing member HeikeM
This book was just pressed into my hand without much explanation and so I read it a little apprehensive. But it is quite something. The book holds three stories, starting with George, one week before his death, drifting in and out of hallucinations, dreams and memories of childhood, growing up and particularly of his father, Howard. The second story is of Howard, the tinker selling wares from his mule drawn wagon, an epileptic with a mind full of dreams and beauty. The third and shortest story is of Howard's father, the priest who succumbed to mental illness. These three lives are interwoven, told like beautiful dreams, intercepted with quotes from a book -The Reasonable Horologist- (George is a repairer of clocks) and descriptions of the beauty of the nature that surrounds the homes of the three men.
It is difficult to say something about the message in the novel, but what I thought was the most important thing is that finally, on his deathbed, in his dreams, George understands why his father abandoned him, understands why he became what he is, understands the cause and effect of parental actions and is ready to forgive and forget. Finally he feels the strong bond between father and son and awaits a reunion after his death with happiness. This book is written so very beautiful, the language and turn of phrase so imaginative that I might even read it again.
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