Thursday, February 20, 2014
Tinkers by Paul Harding
Published January 2009 by Bellevue Literary Press
Source: bought this one off the clearance shelf at Half Price Books
An old man lies dying. Propped up in his living room and surrounded by his children and grandchildren, George Washington Crosby drifts in and out of consciousness, back to the wonder and pain of his impoverished childhood in Maine. As the clock repairer’s time winds down, his memories intertwine with those of his father, an epileptic, itinerant peddler and his grandfather, a Methodist preacher beset by madness. At once heartbreaking and life affirming, Tinkers is an elegiac meditation on love, loss, illness, faith, and the fierce beauty of nature.
Tinkers won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for literature. I understand why - it has the ingredients prize committees love. I'm not sure, however, I understand the book. The writing was often incredibly beautiful, the symbolism within reach (which is to say, I was not left scratching my head), the stories of the various characters moving. But...
There is so, so, so much detail about the workings of clocks. To be fair, a dying clock repairman's brain might be filled with the details of his craft as his mind begins to turn in on itself. But I began to feel like Harding was trying to hit me over the head with his point. I felt the same way about descriptions of nature (although it was easier to get lost in the beauty of the imagery).
Perhaps some of the difficulty I had with the book were in my expectations. I believed that I would be reading about a man's dying thoughts. I was not expecting to be reading so much of his father's and grandfather's stories. I understand that what came before forms a person but the details of George's ancestors surely wouldn't have been known to him to the extent that they were firing in his brain in his final hours.
Perhaps I'm nitpicking, missing the bigger picture. Tinkers is a Pulitzer prize winner I wanted to love as I have so many others. But...