Colin McKay Miller's Reviews > Tinkers

Tinkers by Paul Harding
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Nov 17, 10

bookshelves: pulitzer-winner, novels
Read from October 15 to November 15, 2010

Some years, the Pulitzer Prize committee doesn’t give out an award for literature. With Paul Harding’s Tinkers as 2010’s winner, I think it should’ve gone down as another blank year. Put it this way: If you played a drinking game every time Tinkers had a plot point, you’d remain stone cold sober.

George Washington Crosby, an old clock repairman, is dying. He reflects back on growing up with a father, Howard, who suffered from epileptic seizures. Usually when you have a story jump back to a prior generation, there’s some clue to the present circumstances, some sort of locked plot point that opens up by the end of the novel, but not with Tinkers. Harding just flashes back to tell more story with little plot. Sure, you could draw some slight parallels between the two stories, but they’re just that—slight—and even then you’re reaching. There’s just not enough to justify the structure. Harding cheats with perspective, too, flipping between first- and third-person (and occasionally from George to Howard) when it suits his need. I’m all for violating the rules when it’s done right (see Cormac McCarthy’s perspective switching in No Country For Old Men), but again, Harding doesn’t have the skill; he simply does it. No dialogue tags either? Unless you’re rolling with an unreliable narrator, where the words could either be spoken or thought and it doesn’t matter either way (see Will Christopher Baer’s Kiss Me, Judas), leave those tags in there and give me a paragraph break for new speakers while you’re at it.

There were occasional scenes that I enjoyed—a section on a man performing odd jobs around town, the pain in some of Howard’s later epileptic episodes—but overall, there was barely enough plot for a short story, yet alone a novel. Critics defend Tinkers, saying it’s a quiet novel, and I would buy that as a difference in appreciated styles if some of my favorite writers didn’t write some of the most beautiful quiet pieces I’ve ever read, but when it comes to novels, there has to be more story than style, and Harding doesn’t have enough charm to pull off the latter in his abandonment of the former. I appreciate that Tinkers is one of the few small press books to win the prestigious award (I usually think Pulitzer winners are good, but not great), that it, at least, shook one of the award’s clichés (usually multi-cultural, multi-generational stories), but it still reads like the kind of book that gets all the critics cooing in the workshops, yet when you hand it to the untrained eye, they’ll get x amount of pages in and ask, “So, uh, when does the story start?”

Okay… have I justified my opinion? Are the good sport review peeps gone? Good. If Tinkers had a face I’d kick it. And Pulitzer? More like Poolitzer. That’s right; I passed fart jokes and went straight to fecal insults to slam your award. One star and a warm glass of Poolitzer for you, Paul Harding; but don’t worry, it’s all metaphorical (just don’t call anyone about that suspicious looking package on your doorstep).
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Reading Progress

10/29/2010 page 84
44.0% "Put it this way: I've read two other books amidst reading this. Coming back in at the halfway mark to see if this short read is anything but a dud." 2 comments

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Lee (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lee Heh heh. Good review. I think Tinkers was the book that made me completely give up on a major award being any indication of a book's quality. I probably won't even check out the recently announced winners of the National Book Award, or next year's Pulitzers. Great job ruining your own credibility, Pulitzer judges.


Colin McKay Miller I'm not much of an award-follower either, but when I see Pulitzer, I've at least read enough of their choices (some before receiving the award, some after) to know that their taste is usually decent. I knew I'd run into a miss from them eventually. I'm just disappointed when it happens.


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