By Paul Harding
Bellevue Literary Press
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.