by Paul Harding
Sometimes good things really do arrive in small packages. That’s certainly the case with Paul Harding’s first novel Tinkers (Bellevue Literary Press, 2009). At only a very brief 192 pages, it still packs an emotional punch that books of three times its length often lack. It’s a novel that you’ll want to savor for its stunning yet economical use of language, for its descriptions of nature, of illness and health, and for its profound understanding of humanity’s deepest needs and desires for family and home. I found reading it to be an incredibly moving experience, yet Harding is in such control of his material that it never devolves into mushiness or becomes maudlin.
George Washington Crosby has spent his entire adult life tinkering with and repairing the most intricate of clocks. Now, lying close to death in his own home, surrounded by his wife, children, and grandchildren, George’s thoughts drift between the present and the past. He thinks back to his chaotic childhood as the eldest child of a traveling salesman whose success in life was severely limited by his epilepsy. He muses on his mother, a woman worn down by her fate as the wife of a failure, and he reconsiders his own life as a man, a husband, and a father. If I could choose two chapters to read aloud – and this book begs to be read aloud – one would be the account of George’s father’s strange, once–a–year meeting with a hermit residing deep in the woods, and the other would be the description of how to build a nest. Together, it seems to me, they encapsulate Harding’s worldview.