Review: Tinkers

Tinkers Book Cover

By Paul Harding
Bellevue Literary Press
January 2009

The Short of It:

A tiny novel that packs an emotional punch.

The Rest of It:

An old man lies on his deathbed, and from it, reminisces about this childhood and his relationship with his father. Simple, yes?

Yes, but Tinkers is not an “in your face” type of story. George Washington Crosby lapses in and out of consciousness as his loved ones wait for the inevitable.  His childhood memories come and go in fleeting, almost ethereal ways. Some memories are more structured than others, but nearly all center around his father Howard, who spent a good portion of his adult life struggling with Epilepsy, which back then, was not a disease that people were familiar with.

After a particularly bad episode, one which leaves George with a bitten hand, George’s mother seeks help in treating this disease. Except, the “treatment” for such a thing back in those days involved a trip to a mental institution. Something that Howard wants no part of since his own father was taken to one when he was just a young boy.

As a tinker, Howard is used to traveling from farm to farm, selling his wares. He is no stranger to travel. So, he loads up his cart and leaves his family, for good.  What George recalls from his deathbed, are the tender moments between a father and his son, but also the darker moments of terror, not knowing or understanding what was happening to his father at the time.

This is a sad story. It has a heavy, weighty feel to it even though it’s such a short novel. Harding’s grasp of the father/son dynamic is gripping and unrelenting at times. The images he paints with words caused me to pause in thought numerous times and it’s left me mentally exhausted. That sounds like a negative comment but it’s really not. Death is an ordeal and losing a loved one certainly takes its toll and that is what it feels like. It’s as if I weathered a storm and now the clouds have passed.  There is a moment of quiet wonder. That is what I am embracing right now.

As a book club book, I think there would be a lot to discuss as far as how Harding presents his ideas, and his writing style in general, but it’s a simple story at heart. Those looking for a book that is heavy on plot, won’t find that in Tinkers, but it’s a rewarding read nonetheless.

Tinkers won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and is Paul Harding’s first novel.

Source: Purchased

21 thoughts on “Review: Tinkers”

  1. People were really polarized over this book. I have not always had the best of luck with Pulitzers (making me question myself) but there is definitely something to it for a short novel to grip you in this way. I’ll have to give this one some thought.

  2. Ti – Nice review. This “little” book does pack quite a punch. Harding’s writing filled me with wonder. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    1. “Filled with wonder” is a good way to put it. I was in awe of him at times. I had toput the book down a few times to fully process what was on the page.

    1. True. Except that no one is really in the mood to hear a story from someone’s deathbed, and that’s sort of what this is. But the childhood memories are just so vivid. Some painful, but some arewonderful too.

  3. When I heard it won the Pulitzer Prize this year, I thought “WOW, I’ve not heard one word about it.” Yours was the first review of it I read (I think).

    Imagine winning the Pulitzer with your first book!

    1. Same thing happened with To Kill a Mockingbird if I am correct. Lee won the Pulitzer and it was her first (and only) novel. I heard Paul Harding at the Festival of Books and he was flabbergasted!

  4. I have been on the fence about this one. I didn’t think I would read it, but after reading your review I think I might get more out of reading it than I previously thought.

  5. Glad you found Tinkers worth reading. I really enjoyed this story a lot. Perhaps it’s because I’m older and I remember the times and history and thought the author did a great job with sense of place and time. And the prevailing attitudes and treatment of epileptics. The Pulitzer winners are not always my cup of tea, although Gilead certainly was, and I’m glad to say that Tinkers was a hit for me too. Thanks for reviewing it.

  6. Thanks Ti – I’m glad you liked it so much. I liked it but I think I needed more plot and I felt, as you’ve described above, that the prose at times weighed me down. Whilst there is no doubting the beauty of his language I think I prefer prose that carries me through – but no doubt he achieved his aim, it just didn’t chime with mine!

    My review here…

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