Monday, November 8, 2010

Tinkers, by Paul Harding

There's a reason books win awards. With the exception of one Pulitzer Prize winning book*, I think they are far superior to your average best selling novel. Tinkers, by Paul Harding, is no exception. This winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize is an under 200-page, $5.99 paperback gem that will make any careful reader slow down and ponder life.

George is dying. Tinkers compiles his thoughts and memories during the eight days before his death. The language is lyrical and, therefore, quite the opposite kind of book that won the same prize in 2009. The reader must think to read this; it is a short but challenging exercise for the mind and the soul. The writing grabbed me so fiercely that often I lingered on one page for a many minutes before feeling I could turn the page.

As George wrestles with the last of his life, he has some sentimental moments:

"When his grandchildren had been little, they had asked if they could hide inside the clock. Now he wanted to gather them and open himself up and hide them among his ribs and faintly ticking heart. When he realized that the silence by which he had been confused was that of all of his clocks having been allowed to wind down, he understood that he was going to die in the bed where he lay."

And as death looms, George has some very honest moments:

"...I will remain a set of impressions porous and open to combination with all of the other vitreous squares floating about in whoever else's frames, because there is always the space left in reserve for the rest of their own time, and to my great-grandchildren, with more space than tiles, I will be no more than the smoky arrangement of a set of rumors, and to their great-grandcildren I will be no more than a tint of some obscure color, and to their great grandchildren nothing they every know about, and so what army of strangers and ghosts has shaped and colored me until back to Adam, until back to when ribs were blown from molten sand into the glass bits that took up the light of this world because they were made from this world..."

It was interesting to read interviews with Harding, who studied under Marilynne Robinson at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her fingerprints are all over his writing. He also wrote portions the novel (his first, by the way), in an unusual manner. This kind of writing talent astonishes me, and I'm grateful that I get to reap the benefits of such a gift. For $5.99, you should, too.

*Disclosure: I am embarrassed to say that I have an exception to my Pulitzer-Prize-books-are-some-of-the-best rule. This summer I read this book, which won the coveted award in 2008. I hated it. I tried hard to make myself like it, but I just couldn't. You won't see a review on it here because I have nothing good to say about it. If you read it and have something nice to say, please let me know what was good about it so that I can figure out what is wrong with me.

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