Laura Droege's Reviews > Tinkers

Tinkers by Paul Harding
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's review
Feb 21, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, literary
Read in February, 2011

"George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died." So opens Paul Harding's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Tinkers. As George dies, he remembers his conflicted relationship with his father, an epileptic who abandoned the family when George was young.

The book gives us both George's and Howard (his father)'s points of view, and the pair are surrounded by a colorful (and sometimes funny, sometimes heart-breaking) cast. There are also meditations upon nature and life and clocks, courtesy of the fictional Rev. Kenner Davenport in The Reasonable Horologist, 1783.

It feels strange to criticize a book that won the Pulitzer, and I'm hesitant to do so. I enjoyed the characters; the family dynamics between Howard and his first, cold and calculating wife, his son, and his second, chatty and fluffy-headed second wife are well portrayed. The side characters are also enjoyable in the scenes where they appear.

However, the frequent digressions into philosophically-inclined descriptions and meditations became boring to me. I wanted more plot and more time with the characters and less time ploughing through descriptions of nature and horology. (Oddly enough, I don't always feel this way about similar books; for example, Moby-Dick, which is more of a philosophical adventure than anything else, is one of my favorite novels. This left me scratching my head in bewilderment as to why this novel didn't wow me the way Melville's did.)

A critic noted that "the real star is Harding's language". The language is dazzling, though I frequently got stuck half-way through some of the longer sentences; I imagine that many other readers would, too. Personally, I have nothing against beautiful prose. But for the language to take precedence above plot and character leaves me dissatisfied. (Sometimes I wonder if literary writers are writing for other literary writers or for the rest of us. )

As I wrote earlier, I did enjoy much of the book. But it was a slow read. I kept wondering why I was bored: Did I not identify with the characters? Have I become a plot-junkie reader, unable to appreciate and savor subtly nuanced prose? Did I read this at the wrong time in my life, before I could fully appreciate a dying man's thoughts? I kept reading in hopes of seeing the secondary characters again and in anticipation of what George's final thoughts will be as he dies. Those didn't disappoint me at all.

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