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Tinkers by Paul Harding
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Jul 30, 11


This fine novel is ostensibly about the death of George Washington Crosby, an old man who lies dying of cancer in his living room while his family keeps watch. But the book isn't about George's death; that simply provides the framework for the real story, which is about his unsteady relationship with Howard, his father. While Paul Harding takes the reader into that theme through George's deathbed recollections (and possibly hallucinations) he develops it in a parallel narrative told from Howard's point of view. The story arc can be confusing, but it's clear when the reader pays attention. It's well worth the effort, too.

Tinkers worked for me on many different levels. Harding immerses the reader into the dying man's stream of consciousness, a flow of thought/feeling/dreams that I suspect is very realistic. At times George is lucid, recalling notable incidents of triumph and tragedy from his life as clearly as a newspaper reporter. Often, though, he slips into prose poems that seem to have little bearing on the story but perfectly reflect the semi-dreaming state of his mind. Some readers may find these passages overwrought or superfluous; I thought they contribute to a greater understanding of the way a dying man's mind conducts itself.

The strange workings of Howard's mind often intrude on the storyline, too. Despite these forays into sub- or semi-conscious thought, I found the characters well-defined, believeable, and sympathetic if not always totally likeable. In other words, George, Howard, and George's grandfather (who makes a cameo near the end) are just like real people. And, just like real fathers and sons, their relationship are very complicated, reminding me often of the paternal ties explored in my own short fiction collection, A Tale Of The Christ. The value of the novel lies in its ability to increase our understanding of ourselves.

Tinkers may be a short book, but it is not a light read. Not because the subject matter is heavy, but because there are layers upon layers of meaning piled on the reader who takes the time to appreciate it. I plan to return to Tinkers again and again and expect to find at least one hard new truth every time I read it.
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