Review of Paul Harding's Tinkers


Paul Harding's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Tinkers, sat on my coffee table for three months, patiently. It was not that I did not want to read it but I had a sense that once I did it would keep me in deep thought for a long time. I was right.

Harding's first novel, while only 190 pages, is long on beautiful language and deep thoughts. It exemplifies the less is more phrase and captures the beauty of nature as well as human nature.

The book centers around an old man's slow descent into death. But he's not alone. He's been moved home to live out his final days and is taken care of by his family. It is during this time he begins to hallucinate and recall memories of his past. These memories cover three generations of a tough, New England family. The underlying theme of this novel centered on the vocation of the main character which was clock and watch repair. This theme is represented throughout the book and shows that life has many parts and at times those parts break benefit a simple surface; such as a clock face. But when repaired and working in harmony life can be a beautiful machine, humming and whirring along.

As each day passes bringing the old man closer to the end, his memories brings wonder and pain. He remembers his father's epileptic seizures, his mother's struggle to send his father to a mental hospital, his watch and clock repair shop. While heartbreaking it's also life affirming. Some novels we can read at a quick pace, Tinkers was one I slowed down and enjoyed every word. Much like the workings of a watch, all the pieces seemed to fit into place as the novel progressed.

Interspersed through the novel were excerpts from books on clock repair and nature from authors in the late 1700s. These detailed descriptions cave the novel a defect dig into what really makes life tick. Everything on the surface is not always indicative of what happens beneath. And it is not always easy to know when something is broken.

After finishing Tinkers, I put it on my shelf. But every time I see it, I give new thought of the lessons it held. The biggest being, to look at things around you and realize their daily workings. Whether it is a clock, a bird nest, family, etc., it all has beauty in it's intricacies. And that beauty continues on after life and into death.

Bruce Aderhold