Just over two years ago, I read Tinkers, the first novel from Paul Harding that happened to win the Pulitzer Prize. It was so good. (Read the review of that here). I loved that book, and I was eager to read anything else from Harding. As soon as Enon was published, I purchased a copy. After reading the first chapter or so a year ago, I put it down, as I was not inclined to read the subject matter. I decided to give it another try now, and, unfortunately, I was disappointed.
First, the likes. I really like that this book exists in the same world as Tinkers. Our main character Charlie is the grandson of George in Tinkers. It’s a clever conceit without being cheesy or sequel-y. I like how this is a slow-paced novel; no real fast-cuts or explosions. Slow. Thoughtful. Reflective. Real. I also like this writer’s style. Harding has a distinct writing style of long sentences, longer paragraphs, and pensive writing. These types of books slow me down and force me to reflect and think.
The dislikes. The first is the main reason why I put this down a year ago: Charlie’s middle-school daughter is killed in a car accident walking home from the beach. The book is how Charlie deals with this tragedy. His wife leaves him, and he becomes addicted to painkillers and descends into the dark world of drug addition. Imagine reading a book about drug addiction told from a really talented and thoughtful writer. This makes that world so much more painful. I wasn’t able to think about the death of a child (and still am not) for “relaxing reading.” On top of this, I realized how much I detest stories about drug addiction. That sinking makes me want to close the book on each page.
Another area that I didn’t like was the telling of the story itself. I felt like Harding is too thoughtful and pensive, something that belies the character. Somehow, it feels forced and it doesn’t fit the story. It’s like an obituary written in comic sans font, if that makes any sense.
The main relationship is between the father and daughter, and that is a beautiful picture. When I read Tinkers, we did not have a daughter. This novel made me think much about our Grace. The fictional Charlie loved and liked his daughter Kate, and I couldn’t stop thinking about my little girl. That’s what made this reading especially difficult. There was this scene that I can’t stop thinking about. Charlie and Kate played cribbage regularly, and after a game, they quickly put the board in the closet without removing the pegs. After Kate’s death, Charlie finds the board, still pegged, still reflecting that last game. Sweet picture. A sad, sweet picture.
Charlie has another reflective moment. He is watching the Red Sox play the Mariners late night, the night before Kate is killed. In a flashback, he explains how she woke up and they have a short conversation about nothing together. She goes back to bed. Harding gives us this painful line: “As I slept, the Red Sox finally beat the Mariners, and an hour later the sun rose over the last day of my daughter’s life.”
See what I mean?
Buy Tinkers now!