Critical Assessment

“The occasional overwriting, the looping narrative, and the almost defiant lack of plot made this a hard book to sell to publishers. An array of editors at major houses rejected the novel, no doubt afraid it would never sell. It apparently sat for several years in the writer’s desk. Then an obscure house, the Bellevue Literary Press, published it to such little fanfare that the New York Times (like most papers) ignored it completely. Then, miracle of miracles, it won the Pulitzer.

“It remains to be seen where Paul Harding, surely a gifted writer, will go from here. But Tinkers is worth any reader’s time. It’s an astringent meditation on loss, family ties, and the presence of the past, which – as Faulkner once suggested – is never dead. It’s never really past.”

Jay Parini, “Tinkers by Paul Harding,” The Guardian, September 24, 2010.

First Excerpt

“He thought, Buy the pendant, sneak it into your hand from the folds of your dress and let the low light of the fire lap at it late at night as you wait for the roof to give out or your will to snap and the ice to be too thick to chop through with the ax as you stand in your husband’s boots on the frozen lake at midnight, the dry hack of the blade on ice so tiny under the wheeling and frozen stars, the soundproof lid of heaven, that your husband would never stir from his sleep in the cabin across the ice, would never hear and come running, half-frozen, in only his union suit, to save you from chopping a hole in the ice and sliding into it as if it were a blue vein, sliding down into the black, silty bottom of the lake, where you would see nothing, would perhaps feel only the stir of some somnolent fish in the murk as the plunge of you in your wool dress and the big boots disturbed it from its sluggish winter dreams of ancient seas.”

TinkersSecond Excerpt

“The sun was going down. It sank into the stand of beech trees beyond the back lot, lighting their tops, so that their bare arterial branches turned to a netting of black vessels around brains made of light. The trees lolled under the weight of those luminescent organs growing at the tops of their slender trunks. The brains murmured among themselves. They kept counsel and possessed a wintery wisdom — cold scarlet and opaline minds, brief and burnished, flaring in the metallic blue of dusk. Then they were gone. The light drained from the sky and the trees and funneled to a point on the western horizon, where it seemed to be swallowed by the earth. The branches of the trees were darknesses over the lesser dark of dusk. Kathleen thought, That is like Howard’s brain — lit and used up and then dark. Lit too brightly. How much light does the mind need? Have use for? Like a room full of lamps. Like a brain full of light.”