Daniel Boorstin’s fabulous book “The Discoverers” begins Book One, Time, with a picture of an hour-glass and a quote from Francis Bacon “Time is the greatest innovator.” Paul Harding’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel “tinkers” is a rebuttal. The plot is simple enough. The hour-glass drains a dying man of his memories of his paternal forebears.
Those who read novels for plot should stop here. This is not your book. This book is about our cobbled life- we are all tinkers. Exquisite in the use of language it tethers the relationships between fathers and sons to our sense of self. For me however the most heart-felt scene is between husband and wife. Vaporous love is hurtful and destructive when it is the mettle that sustains a spouse who has no self-worth.
“His despair had not come from the fact that he was a fool; he knew he was a fool. His despair came from the fact that his wife saw him as a fool, as a useless tinker, a copier of bad verse from two-penny religious magazines, an epileptic, and could find no reason to turn her head and see him as something better.”
George Washington Crosby is laid out on the family dining room table- his death-bed. He is a horologist. His father Howard, an epileptic, traversed early 1900 rural Maine with his mule Prince Edward, selling, usually at a loss, wares from his wagon. George’s grandfather was a gentle preacher. In part like a Taoist, he was one with nature. Immersed, he kept his son Howard at a measured distance, until suffering from a mentally and physically degenerative disease he is absorbed by the woods. Howard goes in search of his father only to be saved himself.
Howard, now a parent, bites his son George during one of his seizures. Epilepsy is considered a mental deficiency in need of institutionalization. George inherits this neurological disorder, but medical science is more kind to him later in the century (it is our 4th most common neurological disorder). The cut to George’s hand is not all that bleeds. Howard is shamed and soon leaves his family. For Kathleen, his wife, the bite reveals a deeper sore. She never recovered from being a wife and a mother. Her feelings toward the children and her husband are replete with resentment and loss that are the product of obligation.
Mr. Harding writing is instructive. It will teach you the mechanics of clocks and how to build a bird house from pieces of tin. It is his observation of nature and our place in it that is more constructive. Memories grant the author a license to distribute the narrative. At times his writing is analog; precise sequential descriptions as if lines of code. Then it is digital; conceptual and expansive. It wonders at Creation. Faith in both God and Nature as time is reabsorbed into a black hole. Mr. Harding employs quotes from The Reasonable Horologist, the invented writings of Rev. Kenner Davenport, 1783.
There is an interesting interview with Mr. Harding at http://www.bookslut.com/features/2009_07_014754.php. He employs the device of the Rev. Davenport to embellish and lighten the text which is partly a family biography. His interest in theology developed after he wrote “Tinkers”. It was spurred on by the author Marilynne Robinson, a renown author and friend of his. Rev. Davenport’s fictionalized writings analogize the workings of the universe to those of a clock. He minimizes our lives. At the outset of “Tinkers” George summarizes his life, preparing his obituary. Even for the most accomplished, the latter are ephemeral. This is reinforced later in the book. He mocks, through George’s grandfather’s fire and brimstone sermon, our time on earth.
“O, Senator, drop your trousers! Loosen your cravat! Eschew your spats and step into the shallow, teeming world of mayflies and dragonflies and frogs’ eyes staring eye-to-eye with your own, and the silty bottom. Cease your filibuster against the world God gave you. Enough of your clamor, your embarrassing tendencies, your crooking of paths in the nature of straightness. Enough of your calling ruin upon the Moor and the Hindoo, the Zulu and the Hun. None of it gains you a jot. Behold, and be a genius! At a breath, I shall disperse your world, your monuments of metal, your monuments of stone, and your brightly striped rags. They will scatter like so many pins and skittles. I shall tire myself more quenching a candle in its sconce. Phew! There: your are gone.”
This novel is a celebration of the world. George inherited DNA that sees the beauty despite the mundane. He finds a new wife who sees that in him.
While the novel’s language can at times be dense and slow, it should not discourage, but encourage you to reread it. For writers, there is a lesson in Mr. Harding’s ability to transfer acute observation into gorgeous language. The novel has a steady and increasing pace, so do not be discouraged, as a few are. It is a definite read if you like good literature.
This novel was published by Bellevue Literary Press, a small press with a stable of strong authors and published works. I previously very favorably reviewed Melissa Pritchard’s “Odditorium” which was a collection of short stories. You can choose past or future reading selections from this small press at http://www.blpbooks.org/.
I urge you to read works from small presses in 2015. In the spirit of transparency I have no relationships with any small presses, I just think they are vital outlets for quality writers and need to be supported.