Friday, October 29, 2010

Tinkering with Time and Expiration

I finished reading Tinkers, the novel by Paul Harding that won the Pulitzer for him and for the very small, new press Bellevue Literary Press. I liked Tinkers, I mean, a lot of it. It was a good book. It feels like first book. Both with the raw narrative energy of it, and in that there are, I think, some areas that don't quite work as well as they could. My biggest issue with it was that the shifts in perspective were not recognizable enough. It tells the story of three men, three different generations, and shifts back and forth between them. And this is often only acknowledged with white space (a double space between sections), not in chapters or subchapters or anything, and a few moniker tags in the first paragraph or two. So that if you miss this, you miss it. Occasionally I would be reading with one person in my head and get many pages into it before I realized I had been imagining the wrong person. So I had to go back and start over the section with the right person in my head. A little distracting from losing oneself in a work. Or maybe I was a bad reader for this. I have been unfocused in other ways lately.

Also, though the symbolism of the title was a great detail, that's all it seemed to be: a detail. There was some feeling that much of the concept of tinkers and tinkering that ran through the book may have been edited out in the revision process. Perhaps others feel differently.

Overall a good read.


Parts of Tinkers that particularly spoke to me:

Your cold mornings are filled with the heartache about the fact that although we are not at ease in this world, it is all we have, that it is ours but that it is full of strife, so that all we can call our own is strife; but even that is better than nothing at all, isn't it? And as you split frost-laced wood with numb hands, rejoice that your uncertainty is God's will and His grace toward you and that that is beautiful, and part of a greater certainty, as your own father always said in his sermons and to you at home. And as the ax bites into the wood, be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. And when you resent the ache in your heart, remember: You will be dead and buried soon enough. (72)

[At least I'm not buried in rubble.]


Of course, Sabbatis is ancient only to me. My father is ancient, too, because both were men who passed from life when I was young. My memories of them are atmospheres. (150)


Nikki was an old woman who dressed like an aging former starlet whose most dramatic, and final, role was that of the aging former starlet persevering under the tyranny of time. (160)

[I can't even express how delighted I get when a sentence wraps itself around itself like this. I mean, when it's intentional. People garble things in uninteresting ways all the time. I could read this a hundred times and be happy every time. A thousand times, probably.]

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