Winman...has crafted something of a small miracle here. Though the novel clocks in at a only little over 200 pages, so much is contained in it—the complicated nature of love, the power of art to inspire and sustain, the half-life of grief and regret, the liberation of (French!) travel, the grace found in small moments of kindness—it’s like a literary version of a Tardis. It seems impossible that it all fits, yet the slow build of emotion and the cascade of quiet, well-earned tears are testament to how rich this meditation on love, art, loss and redemption truly is.
Tin Man...contains all the complex characterization and emotional astonishments expected from her by now, but there are also departures from her trademark style. Gone is the somewhat more playful tone of her first two novels. There’s no magical realism to be found, but rather a drilling down through the cold layers of life ... There is much economy of language in this compact novel, yet Winman still manages to finely draw every character. These people on the page are like those sunflowers on the canvas: striving, drooping, wilting, dying—and more than what they seem ... all this is an impressive accomplishment, even for a novelist who already seemed to know the truth about humanity by heart and could spill it onto the page with ease.
Except for an occasional lack of clarity in shifting time as well as one or two heavy-handed references to the painting, Winman’s novel holds up remarkably well. Her precise yet often restrained prose keeps the novel clear and focused on the story ... Given Tin Man’s themes–the intensity of boyhood friendships, the shifting dynamics among three people who love each other, the AIDS crisis–it’s inevitable that comparisons will be drawn to Michael Cunningham’s A Home at the End of the World. Yet Rose Tremain’s more recent The Gustav Sonata might be a better reference point. That novel (of similar length) also follows the friendship of two boys throughout decades with music, rather than painting, a recurring motif. More importantly, however, both authors convincingly depict the complexities of love that can’t be easily labeled. In that, they both are a rare find.