I usually don’t take book recommendations from people. It’s not that I am arrogant about my book choices (OK, maybe I am a little!); rather, it’s because I always have too many books that I’ve already have picked out vying for my attention. Adding in book suggestions just get in the way. And, if I held to this, I would have missed out on one of my favorite books of the year, Tinkers by Paul Harding.
Over dinner at The Harbor, my friend Melissa told me about this book, and her brief overview of the plot sounded interesting: quiet prose, generational storyline, clock maker. Something about that hooked me, and I bought it the next day. I read it while being trapped inside for the weekend that Typhoon Jelawat visiting Okinawa, and this book was the perfect antithesis to the stormy, angry wind outside.
Tinkers begins with George Washington Crosby on his deathbed with this compelling sentence: “George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died.” These hallucinations take us through his life in herky-jerky starts and stops, and we as readers must piece together the fragments of snapshots that we see. The narrative crisscrosses between George as an old man, and George as a small boy, focusing on George and then on his father, Howard, a peddler-tinker trying to scrap together a living for his family. Howard is unable to stay due to medical issues. George tells us “he leaked out of the world slowly.”
The story is a sweet portrait of family hardships, of leaving and staying together, of love and work, and of fathers and sons. Simple and slow (but not in the dull meaning of the word), Tinkers gives us a tender picture of the Crosby family. But the best part of the novel is not the story; it is the way the story is told. Harding is a gifted writer who captures the family with his tender constructions. The fragmented timeline is propped up by the beautifully crafted sentences. This inner working of the prose adds to the motif of George’s career as a watchmaker. All this works together to create this memorable book. Melissa was right about the quiet prose.
Tinkers end with one of the most aching scenes I’ve read in a novel: it was a meeting between a young George and his new family and his estranged father. I won’t give anything away here, but we are told that this scene was “the last thing George Washington Crosby remembered as he died.” After I finished it, I thought of my own father and two sons. I put down the book, listened to the wind howling outside, and waited for the boys to wake from their naps. I had something that I really wanted to tell them.