Listening to: Modern Times, Bob Dylan
Reading: Tinkers, Paul Harding
Thinking about: emptiness
About Tinkers— declined by many major presses as too slow and meditative, then published by a very small literary press (Bellevue Literary Press) and won the Pulitzer for 2010. Yes, yes, yes, must read.
It’s not a long book, and I was able to read it in one sitting (well, one lying down, actually) last night in bed. I particularly like it when I can swallow a book whole, the experience is so much more intense than reading in small gulps over days.
The book reads like a long dreamy prose poem, the writing is magnificent and eerie. It moves out of time, asynchronously following 3 generations of fathers who tinkered in life, picking up threads and gently following them. It honors the radiance of despair. The burden of its narrative crept up on me, so that, again and again, when I was suddenly overtaken by it, it thrashed me. The story rests on a meditation by George on his deathbed, and the inheritance of loss, how one repairs or ruins the past (even the past that is unknown to one), and of time itself. George repairs old clocks and ponders the workings of time, as in the workings of clocks, the need to fix time, as it were, the need to tinker with things.
Tinkers displays a knowledge of dying that rings true, the loss of time and location, seeking and finding the past in bed with you, hallucinations that arise from a crumbling structure that was a life, the hovering family, the sudden understanding and frantic effort to complete and pass on the things that will no longer belong to you.
Here’s a small tidbit, describing the aftermath of Howard’s (George’s father) first epileptic seizure, where his tongue was badly lacerated and he was hypothermic after spending the night in the woods, looking for his father, who was missing and would remain missing forever.
That first night, however, she made a broth and fed it to me through a tin basting wand, which she inserted into my mouth along the side and down to the back, nearly into my throat, in order not to touch my tongue, like a mother bird feeding a chick. The broth was very hot and salty and it scalded its way down to my stomach. Once its heat was inside me, it radiated out from my middle, until I was finally warmed through. My mother was very patient. The process took nearly an hour. I recall only the gradual exchange of coldness and pain for warmth and exhaustion. The forest had nearly wicked from me that tiny germ of heat allotted to each person and I realized then how slight, how fragile it was, how it almost could not even properly be called heat, as its amount was so small and whatever its source so slight, and how it was just like my father disappearing or the house, when seen from the water, flickering and blinking out.