Tinkers – Book Review

He tinkered. Tin pots, wrought iron. Solder melted and cupped in a clay dam. Quicksilver patchwork. Occasionally, a pot hammered back flat, the tinkle of tin sibilant, tiny beneath the lid of the boreal forest. Tinkerbird, coppersmith, but mostly a brush and mop drummer. – from Tinkers, page 12 –

George Washington Crosby is eight days from death on the opening page of Tinkers – he is hallucinating and remembering, he is pondering his life and the life of his father. George has spent his life fixing clocks – and time plays a crucial role in this novel about fathers and sons, and connections with others. While George lays dying from cancer, he reflects on the small things which have made up his life, including the house he has lovingly built and the intricate details of clock repair.

Read the names etched onto the works: Ezra Bloxham – 1794; Geo. E. Tiggs – 1832; Thos. Flatchbart – 1912. Lift the darkened works from the case. Lower them into ammonia. Lift them out, nose burning, eyes watering, and see them shine and star through your tears. File the teeth. Punch the bushings. Load the spring. Fix the clock. Add your name. – from Tinkers, page 15 –

But Tinkers is not just George’s story…it is the story of three interconnected generations of men: George’s father Howard (an epileptic), and Howard’s father who suffered from dementia. Narrated alternatively between these three points of view, the story is nonlinear.

Howard is a dreamer and a tinker, a man who relishes the beauty of nature and spends whole days picking wildflowers and constructing art from twigs and grass. His seizures come when he least expects them, and eventually tear apart his fragile marriage. George’s memories of Howard are of a father often mysteriously late coming home, and one frightening episode of Howard seizing at Christmas dinner.

Howard’s father is a minister whose slow descent into dementia confuses his son who describes his father as ‘a strange, gentle man.‘ Howard’s loss of his father mirrors George’s loss of Howard.

Harding’s prose is like reading a long, narrative poem. Beautifully constructed sentences and stories within stories characterize Tinkers. Often the story feels like water in a river – rippled, unpredictable, dipping around corners and eddying around obstructions…and so, Harding’s use of water as a symbol in the novella seems appropriate.

The overriding themes of Harding’s Pulitzer Prize winning effort are that of time passing, the dreams of men, and the passage from life to death.

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. – from Tinkers, page 78 –

I enjoyed this slim book whose size belies the depth of the prose. This is a beautiful story which reads more like a meditation than a novel. Full of lyrical phrases, it is not always an easy book to understand, and yet it is a deeply satisfying read.

Readers who are not intimidated by literary novels which use symbolism and metaphor liberally to explore deeper issues, will want to read Tinkers. This is a novel which left me thinking about the characters long after I turned the final page.

Highly recommended.

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  1. Oh, this sounds wonderful! I love a good literary novel with complex themes and such, and I loved this review. I am going to have to add this book to my wish list. I haven’t read a non-linear novel in such a long time.

    • Wendy on June 1, 2010 at 08:05

    Zibilee: It is really an amazing little book – I can see why it won the Pulitzer. I am also amazed that this is Hardings FIRST novel!

    • Laura on June 1, 2010 at 08:09

    This is on my list for June, and I just requested it from my library. I’m #30 in queue, but they have 13 copies, so I’m confident I’ll be able to read it this month. I can’t wait … reading your review has me all the more excited about it.

    • Sandra on June 1, 2010 at 09:03

    So glad you liked this novel as much as I did. I gave it a five star rating also. I can foresee reading it again one day.

  2. we are forever loving the same books, though I loved Brooklyn a bit more than Spin. I felt more deeply for the characters in the former. Tinkers is full of linguistic delights.

  3. I’m so pleased to see that you loved this book! It isn’t out in the UK yet, but I nearly ordered it from the US. I was offered a UK review copy just in time and so look forward to reading it sometime next month.

  4. Okay, I didn’t read this review, because I’m trying to start this book without any preconceived notions – other than that it won the Pulitzer Prize! 🙂

    I starred your review to come back and read it up after I’ve managed to get my hands on a copy!

  5. I got a signed copy of this at BEA! It was super exciting to meet a Pulitzer Prize winning author. He was so gracious and nice, signing inside the tiny booth of his small publisher instead at the large autograph tables with the ridiculous lines. You know the ones I’m talking about. LOL.

    • Connie on June 2, 2010 at 14:35

    I have been meaning to read this! Thanks for the review 🙂

    -Connie over at The Blue Bookcase

    • JoAnn on June 3, 2010 at 14:32

    I’m so glad to see your review of Tinkers! Although I absolutely loved the writing, I put it aside after about 70 pages, not really connecting but knowing it was a simply case of ‘right book wrong time’. I know the right time is coming…

    • Wendy on June 6, 2010 at 08:24

    Laura: I think you are going to really love this book…can’t wait to see your review of it.

    Sandra: I agree – this is a book which could be re-read…there is so much there. Glad you also loved it.

    Beth Kephart: I like how you describe Tinkers “full of linguistic delights” – YES!

    Jackie: I predict you will love this one!

    Jessica: I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts on Tinkers…

    Lisa: Lucky you getting to meet Harding!! I’d love to have met him (and get a signed copy). I’m hearing that he is working on his next book which will be published through Random House.

    Connie: You’re welcome – hope you enjoy it!

    JoAnn: I think you have to be in the mood for a really deep, contemplative read for this one. Hope the next time you pick it up it will resonate with you.

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