Sunday, February 8, 2009

Fathers and Sons

The Book Shop in West Portal in San Francisco is a readers book store. The
books are carefully put out on large tables to easily browse and read. I am always impressed by the choice of books I find. Many are the titles we have read in book club or ones we have blogged. I love to slowly browse and read the backs and covers of the books until I find the one that appeals to me. I had never heard of Paul Harding or his novel “Tinkers” but I liked the blurbs on the back. Interestingly the copy I purchased was autographed, so Mr. Harding must have visited the Book Shop. I was elated to find “Tinkers” to be a special and amazingly good book.

“Tinkers” is Paul Harding’s first novel. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a teacher of creative writing at Harvard. “Tinkers” is the story of George Washington Crosby. We find him as he lays dying in the living room of the house he built. The story is a series of hallucinations that emerge as George slowly loses consciousness with the world and people around him. He begins to relive his childhood in the rural West Cove, Maine. He remembers his father, Howard, a tinker who drove a wagon over the countryside, filled with household goods, to sell to the people living in the remote woods. George tells the story of a kind, humble father who suffered from epileptic fits, a father who disappeared from George’s life when he was young. The beauty of this story lies in the thoughts of these two men. The author brings the reader into the hearts of these men and shows us that even though they were separated there remained a strong connection. George was a teacher but in his retirement he repaired and tinkered with antique clocks. Paul Harding delves masterfully into the workings of a clock and the skill of "horology", the study of measuring time or making clocks. He also describes the mystery of an epileptic seizure with wonderful, clear, insightful language. The story moves from George and Howard to Howard’s father, a minister, who was strangely removed from Howard's life when he was a boy. The author goes into the minds of these three men, who did not or hardly knew each other, to illustrate the mystery of existence and connection.

Paul Harding’s prose is beautiful whether he is describing some wonderful force of nature or the sadness of a young boy. His sentences can go on for a full page and demand the reader’s full concentration but the effort is rewarded with an intricate story and a beautifully written novel.

Let’s hope Paul Harding has other stories to tell us with his amazing prose and skillful narrative.

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