Tinkers/Paul Harding: Reflections

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

It's a famous story by now—how Paul Harding's first novel, Tinkers, wended its way through a world of publishing no's until it arrived at the door of Bellevue Literary Press (NYU School of Medicine) and was welcomed in with a yes.  Early reviewers loved it; independent bookstores did, too.  A few countable days ago, Tinkers took the Pulitzer.

I ordered it at once, as I blogged I would.  It arrived yesterday and this afternoon, after much tinkering myself (the large garden now weeded, the old wood of the azalea lobbed back, a leaking room cleared for the men who will fix it, two weeks of laundry finally done), I sat down to read.  It's a small book; it can be read on either side of noon.  It yields to no one's idea of a novel but the author's own, which makes it one of the most interesting things I've read in a long time.  I'm not sure that it is entirely successful—this story of a dying son remembering an incandescent epileptic father who in turn remembers a father:  these tinkers, all three.  But books that take risks take risks; that's the point. They contribute something new, and we are grateful for what we've been taught.

Tinkers is deeply meditative, brilliantly descriptive, taking us inside clocks and lightening-lit brains, into backwoods, and up a new highway.  There's dialogue here, but you'll have to search long for it.  There's story, but it's cocooned within hallucinatory memory.  Someone appears to be reading a book, and the book is arcane, and it is difficult.  It is head scratching until, at last, on the second-to-last page, we understand its purpose.  Tinkers is thick with words like imbrication, ichthyic, and craquelure (these three appearing all on a single tiny page).  And every now and then, when we need it most, it smacks the reader with something deeply human and moving:

Everything is made to perish; the wonder of anything at all is that it has not already done so.  No, he thought. The wonder of anything is that it was made in the first place.  What persists beyond this cataclysm of making and unmaking?



bermudaonion said...

It sounds well worth reading!

nomadreader said...

I'm really looking forward to this one. It's interesting to hear your thoughts on Tinkers as a novel. I wasn't the world's biggest fan of Olive Kitteridge (last year's Pulitzer, of course), but I'm glad it one because of its unique idea of literature somewhere on the spectrum of stories, interconnected stories and a novel. Thanks!

Lilian Nattel said...

The quote is beautiful. Thank you.

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