In this astonishing novel, Paul Harding creates a New England childhood, beginning with the landscape. And he does this, miracle of miracles, through the mind of another human being – not himself, someone else … Photographs and memories and old fears move through him. Clocks and pots and old heirlooms, all bearing stories, flesh out his history and that of his ancestors. In his imagination the whole structure, the life that took generations to build, comes tumbling down.
Tinkers is a finely crafted piece of work by a writer who clearly respects his own trade. In fact, what it most resembles is one of the antique clocks that the book’s protagonist so lovingly repairs. This is a book so meticulously assembled that vocabulary choices like ‘craquelure’ and ‘scrieved’ – far from seeming pretentious – serve as reminders of how precise and powerful a tool good English can be … But what gives this slender book its sweetness is a ribbon of beauty and the occasional surprise jolt of ‘major kindness.’ Tinkers is slow to boil. Its feel is anything but commercial. Perhaps that’s why it was so slow to find a publisher – and so quick to earn a prize.
In Paul Harding's stunning first novel, we find what readers, writers and reviewers live for: a new way of seeing, in a story told as a series of ruminative images, like a fanned card deck … Beneath the men's stories flows a series of heart-wrenching inquiries into the nature of life on earth, its terrible beauty, and the limits of our ability to comprehend and bear it … What's difficult to convey is the reach, and painful beauty, of Harding's language.
The novel is less about the details of one man's life than about the labyrinthine journey all of our lives will take at the end. There are certainly the precisely rendered specifics of George's boyhood, as well as lengthy sections about his father, Howard, a tinker who sold odds and ends to rural New Englanders from his horse-drawn wagon. Harding's interest, however, is in the universalities: nature and time and the murky character of memory. He is focused on the formative moments when the clay is still damp, not those long periods when we are already hardened statues … The small, important recollections, however, are rendered with an exactitude that is poetic.
There are few perfect debut American novels...To this list ought to be added Paul Harding's devastating first book, Tinkers, the story of a dying man drifting back in time to his hardscrabble New England childhood, growing up the son of his clockmaking father. The mystery and machinery of these ticking timepieces appear and reappear throughout this beautiful book, which cycles backward and forward in time, capturing with awful grace the unwinding of a life … Harding has written a masterpiece around the truism that all of us, even surrounded by family, die alone.
Paul Harding's Tinkers defies expectations and proves to be one of 2009's most intriguing debuts … Interspersed with descriptions of the harsh yet lovely landscape of Maine, George's dying, Howard's life – which takes a very surprising turn – and the old preacher's writings are sections purporting to be from an 18th-century handbook on mending clockworks. The turning seasons, the race and crawl of time, the ebb and flow of life are Harding's materials, and he regards them with a watchmaker's eye.
Harding's outstanding debut unfurls the history and final thoughts of a dying grandfather surrounded by his family in his New England home … The real star is Harding's language, which dazzles whether he's describing the workings of clocks, sensory images of nature, the many engaging side characters who populate the book, or even a short passage on how to build a bird nest. This is an especially gorgeous example of novelistic craftsmanship.
Harding employs diary entries, stream-of-consciousness musings and excerpts from clock-repair manuals to tell both men’s stories. Short on dialogue and filled with lovely Whitmanesque descriptions of the natural world, this slim novel gives shape to the extraordinary variety in the thoughts of otherwise ordinary men.