Review: Tinkers – Paul Harding


Tinkers by Paul Harding is a short book that says a lot. What exactly it is saying though, is something of a mystery to me. And I’m supposed to be the literary one of the group. I came across it wandering through a bookstore (yes they still exist) with my wife, and she was drawn in by the cover and description (and the Pulitzer stamp helped). I’m not sure if this book just didn’t connect with me, or if I just didn’t get it. You’ll have to ask the board that picks the Pulitzer prize winners.

This is a very literary book. Even to try to describe what it is about is somewhat elusive. The writing surrounds an old man, George Washington Crosby, on his death bed experiencing past memories and the disorientation of approaching death. Many of these memories tell the story of his own father, an epileptic traveling salesman. The story is disjointing, jumping around from different points of view and even different tenses in writing. The writing itself though is really the gem of the book. It’s not plot-driven, it’s not even really character-driven. It is language and “illness” driven.

“Illness” in the sense that a lot of the story is about Howard’s experience of his epileptic seizures along with George’s experiences leading up to his death. In fact the book was published by Bellevue Literary Press, which is associated with a medical center. This reflects not only the medical nature of the book, but also the fact that Harding had a very hard time finding anyone to publish the manuscript–despite having an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, one of the most prestigious writing schools in the country. After reading it, I can understand why it was hard to publish, but I also am able to understand why it won the Pulitzer. The language is really remarkable throughout.

But when it comes down to it I don’t read books to experience beautiful language. I appreciate good writing when it is supported with an engaging story and quality characters, but this book lacked those elements for me. The story dealt a lot with fathers and sons in a way, but in a very disconnected and sparse way. It addressed some of the nature of death, but not in a way that seemed to ring true. In the vain of the IWW, this book could be called similar to Gilead (Marilynne Robinson is quoted on the cover), but without the heart.

Some people really love this book. And if you want to read a poetic novel, something with language you slowly sip, perhaps you would too. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

About Luke

Luke learned to read at the age of two, whereupon he decided, like much of the male population, that it was a chore to be done only when absolutely necessary. Then suddenly at age nineteen, he discovered good books—he has been reading voraciously ever since, earning multiple literature and writing degrees. At any given moment you'll find him reading at least one book, smoking a cigar, up fifty feet in a tree he free-climbed.

Currently Reading:
Collected Stories by Alexander Pushkin
-Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
The Mystery of Being by Gabriel Marcel


  1. What I suspected. I saw the novel at Barnes & Noble’s last December and was curious, noticing both the ‘golden’ Pulitzer stamp on the cover and the M. Robinson blurb. I read a couple pages, a score of reviews, and concluded that the book was probably not worth my time.

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