A delightful and well written novel about a married couple suffering through his Alzheimers. The story is shared by a boy traumatized by his brother'sA delightful and well written novel about a married couple suffering through his Alzheimers. The story is shared by a boy traumatized by his brother's accidental death. The other main character is a lonely Search and Rescue officer who the wife befriends.
Lost is both sensitive and uplifting. My only complaint is that the ending seemed abrupt....more
This is long because I wrote it for a lit class. The short version is: if you like incredible prose and mystifying philosophy, read Tinkers.
Here is thThis is long because I wrote it for a lit class. The short version is: if you like incredible prose and mystifying philosophy, read Tinkers.
Here is the long version:
I cannot imagine anything more unsettling than contemplating that day when I will no longer be a physical part of this world. Worse than that, though, has to be George Washington Crosby’s plight in Paul Harding’s novel, Tinkers. It opens with him in his living room on a rented hospital bed, eight days away from death. And yet both George, and his poet father Howard, has given me reason and strength to open and re-read the pages of my own mortality and the sense of loss they conjure. George is desperate to “look at his life, to take the stock he always imagined a man would at his end” (18). He has always been a responsible and analytical but also loving. He cared for his siblings when their parents could not; he built houses with his own hands and repaired clocks. Dying, he wants to gather his children and “open himself up and hide them among his ribs and faintly ticking heart.” (34) Sadly, not only is he helpless to control the order of his memories but all of them have shifted in so many different ways that what he sees is a “different self every time he tried to make an assessment.” (18) And since control and precision were huge priorities for George the novel opens with him hallucinating about a “torrent of (window) panes (that) would drive everyone from the room…(leaving him) marooned on his bed in a moat of shattered glass.” (1) Alone. I would guess that those last hours of life are unsettling for as many reasons as there are persons experiencing them. I think of the differences between a priest, a burglar, a mother and a child. Their thoughts on their deathbeds, if they recognize them as such, have to be vastly different. But certainly our need to comprehend what happens next is a universal concern. In reading Tinkers I wondered whether death means I have forever lost my connections to the only life I’ve known? The people I love? Do I merely become “a ghost, almost made of nothing”? (9) Or, is there a way …a promise, a hope…that I will still remain connected but perhaps not in a way I recognize? For Kathleen, George’s mother, the “nearly martial ordering of her household is, in fact, the love she is so terrified that she does not have.” Likewise for George, a builder of solid homes and a repairer of fine clocks, abandoning his family in death--exposing them to the whims of nature and “intrepid squirrels” (1) just as his father and grandfather had abandoned their families--is tantamount to forsaking their love. It is a loss that both George and his quixotic father, Howard, dread. And it is their coping with that dread, trying to make sense of its pain that not only permeates this beautiful story but also draws me to want to read it over and over. My own father, an alcoholic, left my mother, my siblings and me when I was the same age as George. He did not leave us physically but like Howard, “The world fell away from my father the way he fell away from us. We became his dream.” (135) It is heart wrenching to read how George and Howard deal with their loss but, at the same time, it is comforting. It connects me to them.
Throughout his work, Harding juxtaposes dreams and reality and light and shadows in ways that create tension to the point of frustration. I found the tension not only within the story but also within myself as I read. Harding very effectively nurtures this with his narrative mode. I might say it is simply stream of consciousness except that that implies a narration of primarily the characters’ interior monologues. Harding goes several steps further by throwing in a dizzying combination of dream sequences, epileptic seizures and lyrical soliloquies like a Summer evening of fireworks that are both stunning and enlightening but, at the same time, awesome in their frightful power. This tension pitted my chances of understanding Harding at the same desperate level as the characters’ attempts to make sense of their lives. I felt their pain because Harding nearly drowns us with it-- like the silt and water of Tagg Pond that encompasses Howard as he sits in it for a day and a night while searching for his father and for himself. By the end of the novel I, like George and Howard, craved a resolution that gives us all a sense of being re-connected with those we lost and those we love.
There are other juxtapositions throughout the story. There is Howard who basks in the unpredictable but beautiful wonders of nature and its demand that we endure its hardships. “…winter already sealing the country people in behind him.” (26) In contrast there is George, who venerates the precise and predictable mechanical world of clocks despite their demands that we maintain them and live within the boundaries of their minutes. “Eighty four hours before he died.” (65) Howard received his poetic leanings from his minister father whereas George’s tendencies reflect his mother’s “stern manner and humorless regime.” (88) I loved them both because Harding makes them real--vulnerable yet capable of tremendous love. As I read, more than anything, I cheered for them. I waited for them to connect once more with each other; in part because I never really connected with my own father and, in part, because
In the end both George who is “lamenting the loss of this world of light and hope” (23) and Howard whose “despair came from the fact that his wife saw him as a fool, as a useless tinker” (125), do connect and this gives comfort to their final hours. Howard’s connection comes by way of a ‘shadow’ separate from himself. This “shadow dreamed just as he did for the reason that he could imagine himself to be a shadow of something--someone--else.” (181) I believe that someone is George, the son for whom Howard longed. As George’s last breaths escape, his face becomes almost like a clock, a sundial, and the shadows of time passing across it… (his body) “merely maintaining a pantomime of human life.” (184) The real George, the ‘it’ which I took to also be his ‘shadow’, his soul, is plumbing “depths far, far from that living room” (184) and far from his family’s “own, human terrors about their own wases to the it, which is so nearly was that it will not or simply cannot any longer accept their human grief.” (184) He connects with his family and his ancestors on a level wholly different than a tinker might, spiritual rather than mechanical. What happens is that George senses “finally, the foolishness of attributing the unknown to secret cabals” (189) He accepts that “Everything was almost always obscure”…that understanding shines “for no discernable reason.” For him it was okay, upon death, to lie down and get picked over (190) and be “used to fix broken clocks,” to become a part of the solution. “This is how, finally, we were joined.” (190) Because, in the end, Tinkers is not just about finding fathers or about trying to understand either their precise, organized natures or their poetic ones. It is not about trying to accommodate the natural world to the mechanical one. It is not about trying to justify the forces that bring progress or those that hinder it. In the end, Harding’s Tinkers is about individuals finding kinship with all those other worlds and, finally, with the ones they love. I am not alone, I am certain, in wanting my family, my peers and, yes, even my ancestors, to appreciate me. It is important--it is the nature of being human. Like Howard and George, I’d like to die knowing that the reflection of my life, my shadow, lives on after me and attaches itself to my loved ones so that as this process of shadows coming and going extends itself through generations and “this alternating, interdependent series of lives (forms) a sort of intaglio” (181). It is uncanny how much Howard is like my father. He liked to tinker in his workshop, he was a salesman, he was a father and he was a poet. I often thought he would have been happier without the burden of his family. My father struggled to be like George, to be responsible and a builder of houses. Unlike Howard and like George, my father stuck it out--but only in a physical sense. His sense of duty won out but frustrated him. There has always been a part of me that would like him to come back to this world, to re-connect with me on a spiritual level. To assure me that, with his drinking, he left my family not because of them, but because of him. Having read Tinkers, I am comforted that perhaps his shadow had found me. I just did not recognize it. ...more
Classic Alice Hoffman complete with strong female protagonists, well-defined characters and a dash of the other world. This is about the lives of threClassic Alice Hoffman complete with strong female protagonists, well-defined characters and a dash of the other world. This is about the lives of three sisters who are extremely close as children but drift apart during a number of tragic events. It is long on agony and dysfunction but has a satisfying ending...more
I am on a Cormac McCarthy kick. I love his voice and the calm, soothing manner with which he strikes at the heart of humanity. This is an apocalypticI am on a Cormac McCarthy kick. I love his voice and the calm, soothing manner with which he strikes at the heart of humanity. This is an apocalyptic novel--terrifying and gruesome in parts--but it leaves hope in the end....more
Bel Canto is a rewarding read on so many levels I can't begin to cover them all. I think what stayed with me the longest is that it is about boundarieBel Canto is a rewarding read on so many levels I can't begin to cover them all. I think what stayed with me the longest is that it is about boundaries and barriers and about how people cross them (or ignore them) is what defines them.
The book opens at the end of a private performance by Roxanne Coss, a renowned opera soprano's, for a host of dignitaries at the lavish mansion of a South American vice-president in celebration of the birthday of Mr. Hosokawa. He was an opera fanatic and the founder and chairman of Japan's largest electronics corporation and the hope was that he would build a factory in the host company.
The first boundary is crossed when the lights go out and the accompanist leans over and sneaks a 'strong and passionate' kiss onto Roxanne's lips and thereby crosses over, doing what 'all the men and women in the room...collectively' desire.
We soon learn the lights were extinguished by a band of marauding revolutionaries who look to kidnap the president who is not even in attendance at the event. A stalemate ensues that allows both the terrorists and the hostages opportunity to enjoy the music that Roxanne and others provide--a music that seems to cross the boundaries of the dangers present and unite everyone in a beautiful, harmonious existence.
Ann Patchett’s liquid language and unique tale about a likely but unlikely scenario as both the bad guys and the good guys become hostage to the rapture of music; hostages fall in love with their captors and untouchable opera divas fall in love with their admirers. It is as deceiving in its simplicity as it is simple in its message.
Bel Canto is a story about what constitutes barriers, what nourishes them and what happens on either side. There are many. First, there is the kiss. Then there is the wall that divides the mansion from the town--the dignitaries from the working class. There are the guns that separate the hostages from the renegades. There is the barrier of language among the 38 hostages and their captors. There are the barriers that the large corporations and governments put on their employees and citizens. There are the cultural barriers that forbid young female revolutionaries to fall in love with corporate interpreters; or, American opera stars to fall in love with Japanese CEOs; or, militant generals to teach chess to their teenage foot soldiers; or, entrepreneurs to play piano for militants. All of these are lyrically crossed.
Through it all we read about the beautiful music, which brings everyone together in appreciation and we come to love Gen, Mr. Hosokawa’s interpreter, who brings everyone together in language.
But all this happens in a most unlikely world, a Camelot given temporary sustenance by circumstance--a dream that can never come true.