An old man lies dying. Confined to bed in his living room...he is now finally released from the usual constraints of time and memory to rejoin his father, an epileptic, itinerant peddler, whom he had lost 7 decades before. In his return to the wonder and pain of his impoverished childhood in the backwoods of Maine, he recovers a natural world that is at once indifferent to man and inseparable from him, menacing and awe inspiring.Tinkers is about the legacy of consciousness and the porousness of identity from one generation the next. At once heartbreaking and life affirming, it is an elegiac meditation on love, loss, and the fierce beauty of nature. (Goodreads)Tinkers can be a little disorienting. Told at least partially (and perhaps totally) from the perspective of George, a man hallucinating on his death bed, it jumps back and forth in time and space without much warning or explanation. Through these jumps the reader learns of George's childhood, of his father's life and childhood, and the ways in which they are different and the same. Often, it's hard for the reader to tell which character they're reading about at any given time, which I think is part of the point of the novel. Always enclosed in a Maine landscape that is described with ecstatic hallucinatory clarity and brilliance, the lives of fathers and sons, of families and generations, unfolds in a strange non-linear and sometimes circular narrative. The prose is lyrical. I hate the overuse of that word, but there really is no other way to describe the rhythm and sound of this writing. The descriptions are poetic in their beauty, and the meditations on time are at once direct, in that they are clearly talked about in the text, and subtle, in the way those meditations are mirrored and confirmed in the structure of the novel itself. The quality of the writing and the high level of craft are self-evident. No matter how enjoyable you find the book, it is impossible to walk away from it not thinking that Paul Harding is a gifted writer.
You all know that I have a history of being disappointed by prize-winners (see: Wolf Hall, A Visit from the Goon Squad, etc) but I honestly think that Tinkers deserved to win the Pulitzer. I am still shocked that this was Harding's first novel. It's a beautiful book. It's not always the most enjoyable read, in fact at times it's downright frustrating, but it is definitely an experience worth having.
Rating: 4 stars
Recommendations: It's confusing and jumps around a lot, but just stick with it. It's ok if you get the characters confused or don't know where you are. That's part of the point. Just enjoy the prose, and it will all make sense eventually.