Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tinkers by Paul Harding

George Washington Crosby is dying.  He has been brought home to die, and spends his last days in a hospital bed in his living room, surrounded by his family and friends.  He rarely interacts with them; instead he spends his time in a nether state, where he roams through the memories and events that make up his life.

In particular, George's story is that of men and their fathers.  George's father, Howard, was a tinker; someone who drove from one isolated farm to another, selling the supplies that the farmers could not produce on their own.  He was a gentle man and often taken advantage of by those around him.  Howard's defining characteristic was that he was an epileptic.  His seizures were severe and scared his children while disgusting his wife.  When he discovers that his wife plans to have him committed to a mental hospital (this was in the 1870's), he leaves the family without a word and builds another life elsewhere.

George has spent time rasing a family.  After his children are grown and he is retired, he becomes a master clock repairer and seller.  As he lies in his bed, his thoughts often drift to his clock business; the preciseness that is needed to repair them, and the knowledge that a clock in working order ticks off the seconds and minutes and hours of a life, giving the ability to lead a structured, regulated existence.

Paul Harding won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Tinkers.  It is an amazing feat, as this is his debut novel.  The book demonstrates the human longing for connection, but also the fact that each of us leads a separate life and die alone, whether we are physically surrounded by others or segregated into an isolated place.  This book is recommended for all readers.

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