Jessie's Reviews > Tinkers

Tinkers by Paul Harding
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's review
Dec 17, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction

Magnificently strange. Finished reading this while the bread rose by the woodstove, a fitting setting for the last twenty pages. It’s so hushed and so well researched that it feels well remembered by the ghostly, smoky narrator—very dreamlike, at once archaic and contemporary (brings to mind Sebald, Proust (though I’ve not read him), Marilynne Robinson (who was likely Harding’s teacher), Anne Michaels’ FUGITIVE PIECES that I just read, and even people like Jonathan Safran Foer and David Foster Wallace – funny that it calls to mind such an eclectic pack of writers – but really the book is one of a kind: fractured but not at all frenzied; it takes its time; so spacious and meticulous even though brief).

I love the inclusion of the “found” material – pamphlets, pages about clocks and time from “The Reasonable Horologist” – and also the slender, seemingly random set of memories selected for full-blown telling or only bare mention. There’s a stifled feeling of great, buried emotion in the book that bursts out in descriptions of the natural world or of the electric experience of a seizure. (“What is it like to be full of lightning?” 45) The book truly teaches you how to read it and makes me want to read it again to get a better sense of how the parts work together. In a few places toward the end, the sections broke apart for me and felt random, some seeming more out-of-place than others, but this is probably because I spread my reading over too many weeks.

No marginalia for me in this book – it felt too pristine, like snow nobody’s walked on yet. I did dog-ear sections that made me gasp for their beauty.

Two passages I would like to copy out here:

36 when Howard the tinker saves a drowning girl: “Howard took his shoes off and rolled up his trouser legs and waded out to the child. When he first bent to lift her, he did so as if to hoist an errant lamb onto his hip, but when he put his arms under the little body and felt its cold and saw its hair trailing in the current and thought of the child’s mother standing behind him on the bank, he turned her face up and raised her and carried her as if she were asleep and he taking her from the back of a wagon to her pallet bed near the woodstove after returning from a trip visiting relatives.”

55, one of the more mysterious sections of memory: “Crepuscule Borealis: 1. The bark of birches glows silver and white at dusk. The bark of birches peels like parchment. 2. Fireflies blink in the thick grass and form halos around hedges. 3. The spaces between the trees look like glowing coals. 4. Foxes keep to the shadows. Owls look down from branches. Mice make brisk collections.”

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