Saturday, May 26, 2012

The beauty of Tinkers

now finished: Tinkers by Paul Harding

I've caught up on another Pulitzer winning novel, and this one is small and wonderful. Most summaries say something like, "A dying man thinks back on his life" and while that is true that is not the entirety of this work. I think the real magic in Tinkers is the way that two stories are told, of two different men, and yet you slowly come to realize how connected we all are, even when separated, and how much our stories are part of one another's stories.

Also, the Maine setting works painfully perfectly for this novel. It, too, is vivid and magical. And so literary! And, yes, a wee bit mournful, I'd say:

"Your cold mornings are filled with the heartache about the fact that although we are not at ease in this world, it is all we have, that it is ours but that it is full of strife, so that all we can call our own is strife; but even that is better than nothing at all, isn't it? ...And when you resent the ache in your heart, remember: You will be dead and buried soon enough. - p. 72

There are several surprising, delightful moments, like when Russell the Cat makes an appearance. I immediately loved Russell the Cat, and remember him well, brief though his time was on the Tinkers stage:

"The children were astonished by the ham that Kathleen had cooked for the Christmas meal. It was the largest they had ever seen. It was covered in a crust of brown sugar and molasses. Buddy the Dog sat at attention, as if recommending himself to the ham over the children by his proper manners. Kathleen shooed him with a kick in the ribs, but he just let out a yelp and stayed put. Russell the Cat came into the room, too, and sat facing the wall, away from the table, cleaning his paws, as if an affectation of utter disinterest might be the trick to getting a scrap." - p.83

Why did the Bellevue Press publish this book? In part, this is a story about epilepsy. In part, it is about humanity.  It is about what it means to work, to feel, and to make a life. In part, it is about what it means to be mentally ill and the judgments we freely cast on one another.

"Is it not true: A move of the head, a step to the left or right, and we change from wise, decent, loyal people to conceited fools?" - p. 124

When I used to review advance reader copies as a Borders front-of-store person, the cards I filled out for the Random House rep asked me to compare the book to another work. (This, to get the bookseller thinking about recommending it to readers, obvio.) I think Tinkers feels a bit like "The Little Match Girl."

Also, when you read Tinkers you will learn about clocks. And you will like doing so.

No comments: