Tinkers
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Tinkers

Paul Harding

Winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction


An old man lies dying. Confined to bed in his living room, he sees the walls around him begin to collapse, the windows come loose from their sashes, and the ceiling plaster fall off in great chunks, showering him with a lifetime of debris: newspaper clippings, old photographs, wool jackets, rusty tools, and the mangled brass works of antique clocks. Soon, the clouds from the sky above plummet down on top of him, followed by the stars, till the black night covers him like a shroud. He is hallucinating, in death throes from cancer and kidney failure.

A methodical repairer of clocks, he is now finally released from the usual constraints of time and memory to rejoin his father, an epileptic, itinerant peddler, whom he had lost seven decades before. In his return to the wonder and pain of his impoverished childhood in the backwoods of Maine, he recovers a natural world that is at once indifferent to man and inseparable from him, menacing and awe inspiring.

Heartbreaking and life affirming, Tinkers is an elegiac meditation on love, loss, and the fierce beauty of nature.     

Review

With the looming notion of his nearing death, George Washington Crosby lies in the middle of his living room, on a rented hospital bed, surrounded by his family. With the medication taking hold and his body failing him, time becomes a loose construct and the life he has lived—as well as the life of his father before him—become as immediate as reality.

In the unforgiving landscape of rural late-eighteenth to early-nineteenth-century Northern America, Howard Crosby sells goods, his mule pulling a cart full of life’s necessities; pins, coffee, tobacco. In a place where winter brings no income because his neighbours become reclusive and hunker down for it, it is a difficult living, his own violent epileptic seizures sometimes hindering his route. Howard’s observations of the landscape around him make for incredible reading; eloquent and as convincing as if Paul Harding was there seeing it for himself, and looking remarkably young now for someone pushing a hundred and fifty. Later, Howard’s son George will tinker with clocks, his relationship with his father and time always close at hand.

Interspersed with beautiful meditations on Latin phrases and notations on the workings and history of clocks, to whittle it down to a story of a man and his father is to miss the beauty of this novel, which is the writing itself. Harding’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is an original, captivating book that deserves its accolades.

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