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Tinkers by Paul Harding

April 26, 2014


“George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died.” So begins this amazing, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the lives of a man who fixes clocks, among other things, and his father, an epileptic preacher who left the family when George was only a boy.

 “George Crosby remembered many things as he died, but in an order he could not control. To look at his life, to take the stock he always imagined a man would at his end, was to witness a shifting mass, the tiles of a mosaic spinning, swirling, reportraying, always in recognizable swaths of color, familiar elements, molecular units, intimate currents, but also independent now of his will, showing him a different self every time he tried to make an assessment.”

And so too are we left with pieces, random fragments of his life, of his father’s life, descriptions of the inner workings of clocks, images of nature, excerpts from a book by a Reverend Davenport written in 1783, and surreal but poetic prose from something called Homo Borealis:

 “5. When it came time to die, we knew and we went to deep yards where we lay down and our bones turned to brass. We were picked over. We were used to fix broken clocks, music boxes; our pelvises were fitted onto pinions, our spines soldered into vast works. Our ribs were fitted as gear teeth and tapped and clicked like tusks. This is how, finally, we were joined.”

I will admit that early on it is a little slow-going. The fractured narrative makes it a little difficult to get into the flow of the story. But as the mosaic starts coming together, it amasses more and more power and the images began to reveal a tangible, touching story. Likewise, through the excerpts and seemingly random hallucinations, coherent themes emerge: the passage of time, the meaning of our existence, the ephemeral nature of our matter. There is a fantastic moment when, in an excerpt from the Reverend’s work, Harding uses the inner workings of a clock as a metaphor for our search for meaning:

 “[As]…the short hand and the long (which pass in his sky with predictable orbits, cast familiar shadows, offer reassurance through their very repetitions, but which, ultimately, puzzle and beg for the consideration of deeper mysteries), but who merely treads over the surface which hides the gear train and the springs without any but the most indirect conception of what lies beneath, so does man squirm and fret on the dusty skin of our earth, ignorant of the purpose of the world, indeed, the cosmos, beyond the fact that there is one, assigned by God and known only to Him, and that it is good and that it is terrifying and that it is ineffable and that only rational faith can soothe the desperate pains and woes of our magnificent and depraved world.”

I mark passages that I like in the books that I read. Early on, I have a few things marked—a beautiful image here, a nice turn of phrase there—but as the book goes on, I have full paragraphs marked, then pages, then entire sections by the end, such that, were I to include it all here, I fear I’d be violating copyright law.

This is a marvelous book. In the style, in the structure, in the storytelling and in the spectacular language. As a writer, it is a book to aspire to.

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