In the novels I love most, it seems that no matter what the subject, the story is really about time. The span of a life. The meaning of childhood and youth. Stories, like life, are anchored in the temporal, though unlike life, they enable us to see the beginning, middle and end. And knowing the time is finite, we want to savor every page. When this happens, I tend to slow down, allow myself only a few pages at a time, and that happened most recently with Paul Harding’s Tinkers.
This brief but shimmering novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010, tells of George Washington Crosby, mechanical draftsman by trade but whose real love, appropriately, is clocks. The novel charts George’s last eight days of life in a ship of a hospital bed anchored in his living room while relations come to pay their respects. Though the real action is in George’s head, where “hallucinations” have overtaken and drawn a barrier, separating him from life but bringing a keen memory of the past. Mostly, he remembers his father:
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.
The story of George is contained in the memory of his final days, a reckoning but as much a pure recollection of what stayed with him. As clock ticks, so to speak, and the pages turn, the story, and Harding’s prose, made me feel like I never wanted it to end.