Paul Harding’s Tinkers is similar to Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead in two major ways. First, both novels won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction — Tinkers in 2010 and Gilead in 2005. Second, both novels center on a dying man’s reflections of family, paternal history, and personal legacy.
The big difference is that Gilead had a deeper effect on me. I think Gilead has a more pronounced storyline in addition to the riveting, lovely writing.
That said, I get why Tinkers won the Pulitzer. Harding writes excellent prose — the novel is like a series of interwoven vignettes.
Here are a few of my favorite passages:
When his grandchildren had been little, they had asked if they could hide inside the clock. Now he wanted to gather them and open himself up and hide them among his ribs and faintly ticking heart.
Geroge said, Okay, okay, and the blood in his veins and the breath in his chest seemed to go easier as he heard the ratchet and click of the springs being wound and the rising chorus of clocks, which did not seem to him to tick but to breathe and to give one another comfort by merely being in one another’s presence, like a gathering of people at a church dinner or at a slide show held in the local library.
No one could imagine how a man could survive one winter alone and exposed in the woods, never mind decades of them. Howard, instead of trying to explain the hermit’s existence in terms of hearth fires and trappers’ shacks, preferred the blank space the old man actually seemed to inhabit; he liked to think of some fold in the woods, some seam that only the hermit could sense and slip into, where the frozen forest itself would accept him and he would no longer need fire or wool blankets, but instead flourish wreathed in snow, spun in frost, with limbs like cold wood and blood like frigid sap.
…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…be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusions in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of this 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.