Wow, the New York Times missed this one, and then it won the Pulitzer! Haha!
Tinkers is a beautiful, slim little novel about fathers and sons, the madness and poetry they share. The situation Tinkers paints is one where fathers and struggle to get around their damaged relationships to tell each other about their commonalities. The writing is poetic elegy; for such a short book with a decidedly artistic turn of phrase, there is a lot of history for these fathers and sons to delve into.
George Crosby lies dying in bed; one of the people who stands watch over George is his grandson Charlie. George was once a Maine professor and a part-time tinker, mostly of clocks. As death comes to claim the old man, he imagines the stuff of his house – some of it jury-rigged junk - piling up on him, forcing him into his own basement. In his fever, George goes into the mind of his dead father, Henry, a severely epileptic salesman who barely kept his family fed. In these flashbacks, George comes to understand his father more than he did when the epileptic man was alive. Henry’s relationship with George is the crux of Tinkers – the genetic brain structures they may share, how these “mis-wirings” may give each man their vision, their poetry, and their dreams.
At one point the dying George’s conscience will even sail through father Henry’s mind into his grandfather’s head; this man was a preacher who saw visions and talked in riddles. All of the men have peculiarities to the mechanics of their minds. In this short passage, author Paul Harding asks us questions about genetics and men’s dreams for their own lives. He connects us body and soul to the entire history of man, of fathers and sons, of goals claimed and lost.
The language is strange and wonderful, easy to enjoy getting lost in:
George Crosby remembered many things as he died, but in an order he could not control. To look at his life, to take the stock he always imagined a man would at his end, was to witness a shifting mass, the tiles of a mosaic spinning, swirling, reportraying, always in recognizable swaths of colors, familiar elements, molecular units, intimate currents, but also independent now of his will, showing him a different self every time he tried to make an assessment.”
If you do a little internet digging about Paul Harding and this his debut novel, you come to understand that the grandson Charlie, who is watching George die, is a stand-in for the author. It is the author coming to realize his own ancestry.
Tinkers may make you think of your own dad, his secret wishes you never shared. It’s taken me a long time to understand that dreams don’t stop with adulthood. Tinkers is a lovely reminder of that.