Tinkers by Paul Harding
Bellevue Literary Press, New York, 2009
Borrowed from the library.
A Publishers Weekly 2009 Notable Book
An odd, beautiful book about a son and his father. As George lays dying, surrounded by his family, he drifts in and out of time, revisits his childhood and memories of his family and his father, Howard. Howard was a salesman, a tinker and an epileptic who deserted his family. George retired from teaching and learned to repaired clocks. Built of time, memory and dream, Harding has created a story filled with unusual people and unforgettable images. Some are beautifully descriptive.
Nearly seventy years before George died, his father, Henry Aaron Crosby, drove a wagon for his living. It was a wooden wagon. It was a chest of drawers mounted on two axles and wooden spoked wheels. There were dozens of drawers, each fitted with a recessed brass ring, pulled open with a hooked forefinger, that contained brushes and wood oil, tooth powder and nylon stockings, shaving soap and straight-edged razors….
He tinkered. Tin pots, wrought iron. Solder melted and cupped in a clay dam. Quicksilver patchwork. Occasionally, a pot hammered back flat, the tinkle of tin sibilant, tiny beneath the lid of the boreal forest. Tinkerbird, copppersmith, but mostly a brush and mop drummer. From page 11/12.
What of miniature boats constructed of birch bark and fallen leaves, launched into cold water clear as air? How many fleets were pushed out towards the middle of ponds or sent down autumn brooks, holding treasures of acorns, or black feathers, or a puzzled mantis? Let those grassy crafts be listed alongside the iron hulls that cleave the sea, for they are all improvisations built from the daydreams of men, and all will perish, whether from ocean siege or October breeze. From page 77/78
Others are out of a dream.
A wind came through the trees sounding like a chorus, so like a breath then, so sounding like a breath, the breath of thousands of souls gathering itself up somewhere in the timber lining the bowls and depressions behind the worn mountains the way thunderstorms did and crawling up their backs the way thunderstorms did, too, which you couldn’t hear, quite, but felt barometrically – a contraction or flattening as of tone as everything compressed in front of it, again, which you couldn’t see, quite, but instead could almost see the result of — water flattening, so the light coming off it shifted angles, the grass stiffening, so it went from green to silver, the swallows flitting over the pond all being pushed forward and then falling back to their original positions as they corrected for the change, as if the wind were sending something in front of it…From page 128
There is incredible freedom of style in this book. Harding moves from the mundane to the unusual, even the visionary, without floundering or loosing his sense of balance. His language is clear and precise, almost blinding, like a laser, like sunlight glancing off a field of snow. I have never read a book like this, and will not forget it.