Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book


Rate this book
An old man lies dying. Propped up in his living room and surrounded by his children and grandchildren, George Washington Crosby drifts in and out of consciousness, back to the wonder and pain of his impoverished childhood in Maine. As the clock repairer’s time winds down, his memories intertwine with those of his father, an epileptic, itinerant peddler and his grandfather, a Methodist preacher beset by madness.

At once heartbreaking and life affirming, Tinkers is an elegiac meditation on love, loss, illness, faith, and the fierce beauty of nature.

192 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2009

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Paul Harding

91 books334 followers
Paul Harding has an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers' Workshop (2000) and was a 2000–2001 Fiction Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center, in Provincetown, MA. He has published short stories in Shakepainter and The Harvard Review. Paul currently teaches creative writing at Harvard. His first novel, Tinkers, won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
6,096 (18%)
4 stars
9,555 (29%)
3 stars
10,423 (31%)
2 stars
4,931 (15%)
1 star
1,852 (5%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,131 reviews
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,290 reviews120k followers
July 18, 2019
I drip for the beauty of words, not sobbing, heaving tears, but slow wet salt that leaves a trail on gristled cheeks. Tinkers often reads more like a poem than a novel, holding extended passages describing nature or recollection in huge, meandering sentences that carry meaning and feeling like a swollen river delivers silt. It is not an easy read.

Harding contemplates the tenuous borders of time, and the uncertain edges of reality. Life, existing under a lid, is limited, endangered
This is the season—preserving done, woodpile high, north wind up and getting cold, night showing up earlier every day, dark and ice pressing down from the north, down on the raw wood of their cabins, on the rough-cut rafters that sag and sometimes snap from the weight of the dark and the ice, burying families in their sleep, the dark and the ice and sometimes the red in the sky through trees: the heartbreak of a cold sun.
The underlying nature of life, of reality lies just beyond our grasp
The true essence, the secret recipe of the forest and the light and the dark was far too fine and subtle to be observed with my blunt eye—water sac and nerves, miracle itself, fine itself: light catcher. But the thing itself is not forest and light and dark, but something else scattered by my coarse gaze, by my dumb intention. The quilt of leaves and light and shadow and ruffling breezes might part and I’d be given a glimpse of what is on the other side;
It is clear that what we see is not all there is.

Paul Harding - image from The Times Union

George has lived an orderly life, but now, at 80, he is dying. We follow along with his recollections. How do parents connect to children through generations? Where is permanence? George sees himself in a framed set of tiles, moving pieces about and pondering what will happen when the frame is filled and there are no empty spaces left.
I will remain a set of impressions porous and open to combination with all of the other vitreous squares floating about in whoever else’s frames, because there is always the space left in reserve for the rest of their own time, and to my great-grandchildren, with more spaces than tiles, I will be no more than the smoky arrangement of a set of rumors, and to their great-grandchildren nothing they ever know about, and so what army of strangers and ghosts has shaped and colored me until back to Adam
George, who repairs clocks, has a fear of impermanence that is matched by his tinker father, Howard, who in turn contemplates the passing of his own father, a minister succumbing to madness.
It seemed to me as if my father simply faded away. He became more and more difficult to see…He leaked out of the world gradually, though. At first, he seemed merely vague or peripheral. But then he could no longer furnish the proper frame for his clothes…the end came when we could no longer even see him, but felt him in brief disturbances of shadow or light, or as a slight pressure, as if the space one occupied suddenly had had something more packed into it, or we’d catch some faint scent out of season, such as the snow melting into the wool of his winter coat
But it is not death alone that gives birth to dissolution. Howard contemplates a separation short of passing
So there is my son, already fading. The thought frightened him. The thought frightened because as soon as it came to him, he knew that it was true. He understood suddenly that even though his son knelt in front of him, familiar, mundane, he was already fading away, receding.
This held particular sting for me, as my youngest is fluttering away to college in a few short weeks, and I contemplate the space she leaves behind.

Can these generations come together somewhere? What is there behind the mask of nature? Is time rock-solid or vaporous? A transcendentalist’s spirit clearly moves in Harding. His language celebrates nature while trying to see beyond the curtains.
The weaver might have made one bad loop in the foliage of a sugar maple by the road and that one loop of whatever the thread might be wound from –light, gravity, dark from start—had somehow been worked loose by the wind in its constant worrying of white buds and green leaves and blood-and-orange leaves and bare branches and two of the pieces of whatever it is that this world is knot from had come loose from each other and there was maybe just a finger width’s hole, which I was lucky enough to spot in the glittering leaves from this wagon of drawers and nimble enough to scale the silver trunk and brave enough to poke my finger into the tear, that might offer to the simple touch a measure of tranquility or reassurance.
He shifts his perspectives from George to Howard to lesser characters, and includes in his tale entries from what I took to be a series of lectures by Howard’s pastor-father, and entries from a supposed book on Horology. Some might find these troublesome as they definitely interrupt the narrative flow, but they did not seem too intrusive to me.

If you are looking for action, you would be better served looking elsewhere. There are events in the book, but this is mostly a contemplation of time, life and the nature of existence, moving for the poetry of its language and stunning for the depth of its moving waters.

I was blown away and am in need of repair.
Profile Image for Nataliya.
727 reviews11.6k followers
March 27, 2013
A year ago I got through fifty pages of this book and quit in bored frustration. But its alluring squareness kept nagging at a little corner of my brain, and I gathered my will to finish it a year later.

And I'm still not quite sure what I think about it.

On one hand, it's full of superb writing, smartly constructed prose, quite lovely memorably fascinating passages. Whatever I may think about the plot or the characters or the narrative passing, there is no denying that Paul Harding sure knows how to yield a pen (or a typewriter, or a computer keyboard, or a smartphone - whatever he chooses to compose on).
"And as the ax bites into the wood, be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the 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 enough."
The ideas this little square book tackles are also profound enough and quite literary - thus the Pulitzer. It's the memory and identity and life as seen through dying, and dreams and pain and inevitable disappointments and humiliations, and the family relationships that define our complicated selves. Especially those of fathers and sons (once immortalized by Turgenev - Fathers and Sons), full of hurt and pain, unexpected love and tenderness, and - hopefully - that one final moment of understanding.
"But after a handful of such stories, he began to talk about his father and his mother, his brother, Joe, and his sisters, about taking night courses to finish school and about becoming a father. He talked about blue snow and barrels of apples and splitting frozen wood so brittle that it rang when you split it. He talked about what it is like to be a grandparent for the first time and to think about what it is you will leave behind when you die. By the time the tape ran out an hour and a half later (after he had flipped it over once, almost without being conscious of doing so), and the RECORD button sprang up with a buzz, he was openly weeping and lamenting the loss of this world of light and hope."
Oh yes, the unexpected beauty of simplest things in life and the beauty and pain of family are the driving force behind Tinkers.
"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."
We start the story introduced to George Crosby, an old man dying from cancer, surrounded by family, experiencing his house (a symbol of his life, perhaps?) crumbling around him in semi-delirious hallucinations interspersed with moments of touching clarity that fill the reader with the sense of deep sorrow for a man whose life is just about over, whose dignity at this point is a questionable point, whose family is around in this semi-apologetic awkwardness of those who get to keep on living.
"When he realized that the silence by which he had been confused was that of all of his clocks having been allowed to wind down, he understood that he was going to die in the bed where he lay."
George, a clock-repairmen in his retirement, reflects on his father, Howard Crosby - the titular tinker of the 1920s backwoods, equipped with a cart, a mule, a list of items for sale and a soul of a poet or an artist trapped in a tinker's existence - and burdened with his dark secret: epilepsy which he hides from his children, a wife who is quiet and resilient and, as Howard eventually comes to see, resentful, as well as his son George whom he loves but who is deeply traumatized having had his father bite his hand during one of his grand mal seizures.
"His despair had not come from the fact that he was a fool; he knew he was a fool. His despair came from the fact that his wife saw him as a fool, as a useless tinker, a copier of bad verse from two-penny religious magazines, an epileptic, and could find no reason to turn her head and see him as something better."
Howard is keenly attuned to the unexpected beauty of the world, enhanced further through his surreal quite-hallucinatory pre-seizure aura experiences. But what the rest of the world sees is a tinker crippled by his disease, a burden, a symbol of life gone wrong, a source of shame. Howard rebels - even though it means leaving his family behind. And years later, his son now retired is spending time tinkering with the clocks - tinkering like his father did, with clocks symbolizing pretty much everything your sharply attuned by your college English courses peppered with meanings and symbols and literary analysis and the significance of Holden Caulfield's hunting hat.

And yet, while I appreciated the writing and the themes and such, I could not shake off the feeling that so much about this book felt - how would I phrase this? - artificial, brought together for the purpose of getting the most 'literary' meaning out of it, to make it a sort of a book that begs to be discussed in a college English course. It has the execution and the themes, but it felt it was lacking a cohesive narrative glue to bring the story together, to make the reader feel for the characters.

It took me a while (a year, to be precise) to get past the point of not caring enough about the characters to be willing to continue with the story (and eventually at least Howard grew on me - but oh my, did that take time!). The clock repair manual segments interspersed throughout the book were clearly there to serve the important literary purpose - but to me had the jarring effect of pulling me out of the story and reminding me of the initial impression of smart artificialness of the story. And the characterization of Howard's wife - I could not shake off the feeling that a resentful unappreciated shrew of a wife is a device oh-too-frequently used in literature to underscore the vulnerability of a misunderstood sensitive and good male character.
So here are my final impressions: smartly crafted book with all the necessary points built in to qualify for a literary prize - but with the lack of a spark to make it fully come alive. And therefore 3.5 stars from the brain, not the heart.

But at least now I don't have its unfinished white squareness quietly and resentfully staring at me from the bookshelf.
Profile Image for William Ramsay.
Author 1 book24 followers
May 29, 2011
I'm giving up on critics. And on prizes too. This book won the Pulitzer and was lauded by the critics. I found it one of the most boring books I've come across in a long time. The fact that it was praised so highly bothers me. I started reading when I was about sixteen. I have not been without a book ever since and I'm seventy. I've read thousands of books, all the English, American, and Russian classics and all sorts in between. I think I have a feel for a good book if for no other reason than that I have agreed so often with the best critic of all, time. This book was touted for capturing a New England past. I grew up on a farm in New England and found little I recognized. It was praised for its depiction of a dying man and of his memories of his father and his love of fixing things - thus the title. Sorry, I did not connect. The novel has absolutely no plot. What was left then was the writing. That was what won it the critics praise and the prize. And this is what most bothered me. Self indulgent rambling is NOT beautiful writing. If I describe entering a room and saying hello to you in ten pages of musings on the love life of ants and the construction of window sashes in words with no poetic value it's a stretch to call my prose beautiful. When I think of beautiful writing I think of Proust or Lawrence Durrell in the Alexandria Quartet where the words flow like syrup to place you in the scene, to make you feel what the character is feeling. Wordsmithing doesn't do it. There will always be great writers, and maybe Harding will become one. What I question is will there be great readers? Will there be people who award prizes and praise to books with real merit or with there only be elitists praising what's different?
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,482 followers
February 7, 2017
This short book first book by Paul Harding explore the lives of three generations of a family - the nameless great-grandfather, a small-town preacher who slowly goes insane, who we only glimpse through the grandfather Howard's memories of him - the grandfather who ran off to protect his family from the epileptic fits that he inherited from his father, and the father George who, bitten severely by Howard during a fit, we see as a boy in his memories, but who in the present is dying on a hospital bed in his home. There are also snippets of books about clocks and diaries. The title is derived from the fact that George tinkers with and fixes clocks and at one point Howard (we are never quite sure where but most likely Vermont or New Hampshire or Maine), before he runs off to become a grocer in Philadelphia, works as a tinker which was originally defined as an itinerant salesman which is indeed what he was. I suppose that the great-grandfather was a tinker in the sense that he worked long nights on sermons which he would never deliver, just tinkering with the words.
The mood of the book reminded me a lot of the Bon Iver album For Emma, Forever Ago or Sun Kil Moon's Benji - a lonely, sad, mournful narrative of broken relationships and memories. It is beautifully written, but also very, very sad. A winter book, but not for when you are feeling blue. I am not sure that it was Pulitzer quality, but it was certainly a monumental effort for a first novel.
Profile Image for Scott Axsom.
47 reviews137 followers
May 26, 2019
Paul Harding’s Tinkers is a profoundly moving meditation on death and time. I gave the book five stars and would rank it among the best of its kind. That’s why I was particularly shocked, after finishing it, to see the overall rating of 3.3 among Goodreads users. Nonetheless, I do have a good idea why Tinkers resonated so deeply with me personally. Harding manages to describe the process of dying in much the same way that I’ve imagined it since losing my first close friend at the age of eighteen. I’ve lost far too many more dear friends since then and each time I've pondered death a little more deeply. But despite those often desperate efforts, each subsequent death has found me, once again, wholly unprepared. As such, this novel sheds some welcome light into one of the darker corners of my understanding.

Tinkers is one in a long line of Pulitzer-winning novels that deals passionately with the concept of time and it does so in the context of the protagonist’s impending demise. The novel takes place during the final eight days in the life of an 80 year-old man, marking down the hours to his death. Talk about poignant. Talk about focused. And yet, the narrative occasionally ranges off into momentary anarchy, showing the protagonist’s inability to maintain focus in his final hours, demonstrating the delicate, often uncontrollable, natures of the human psyche, of life and, most of all, of death. The most beautiful elements of the book, to me, were Harding’s descriptions of death itself:
“The end came when we could no longer even see him, but felt him in brief disturbances of shadow or light, or as a slight pressure, as if the space one occupied suddenly had had something more packed into it… The world fell away from my father the way he fell away from us. We became his dream.”

Harding gives a circumspect, if meandering, view of the conventions of time and space in the context of death and, in doing so, he provides a spectacularly insightful examination of life itself. He places the concept of “reality” in its proper place and questions whether there is any such thing, when placed against the larger backdrop of death. For such an immense subject, Tinkers is barely more than a novella. In less than 200 pages, Harding delves into the beauty of dew on a flower petal, the undying love between fathers and sons, and the question of whether time and space exist anywhere but within our selves. Tinkers is a deeply philosophical dialectic couched in the very simple story of a man’s life and death, and I’ve read nothing that comes closer to helping me comprehend the wondrous, and frighteningly diaphanous, nature of our existence.
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,398 reviews802 followers
June 28, 2020
Geez. Another Pulitzer winner with so much I loved about it but with enough that was irksome to leave me dissatisfied. (Not that that matters.)

Beautiful writing and characters and sense of place and time, although they all got mixed up in my head and I think in the characters’ heads as well. The generations of men kind of ended up all being the same person, or parts thereof. (Not that that matters either.)

The original main character is dying (today) with grandchildren nearby. George tinkers with clocks. His father, Howard, was a genuine tinker, travelling from outpost to outpost, farm to farm, selling bits and pieces, bibs and bobs, and effecting repairs as he could. Howard has seizures, which his wife successfully hides from the children, until one day, George watches, horrified, is pulled in to help, and has his hand horribly bitten as thanks. Nobody is ever the same after.

And then we step back into Howard’s memory of his own father’s gradual descent into . . . something. Madness or dementia, Howard doesn’t really know, and he has never told George about him. Both boys were badly affected by “lost” fathers.

The is first-person, third-person, and mixed up. It’s easy to get lost. The descriptions are perfect of stoic, hard women and their tough love, their rough, COLD, hand-to-mouth lives that are in such contrast to the lyrical poetry of the odes to nature that permeate the writing.

“the best part of the afternoon when folds of night mingled with bands of day.”

A tinker’s lot is a hard one. Trying to sell things to people who can’t afford anything other than the most basic soap powder can be soul-destroying. But Howard keeps hoping.

“No woman ever bought a piece of jewelry. One might lift a pendant from its bed and rub it between her fingers. She would say, It sure is, when he said, Well, now, that’s a beautiful piece. Sometimes he saw a woman’s face seize for the slightest part of a second, the jewelry stirring some half-forgotten personal hope, some dreams from the distant cusp of marriage. Or her breath would hitch, as if something long hung on a nail or staked to a chain seemed to uncatch, but only for a second. The woman would hand back the trinket he offered. no, no, I guess not, Howard. ”

The notion of alternate realities appears in different ways—speculation as to whether we have shadow selves living different, better lives. It’s the way some people think of Heaven – the place where our real lives will be, and of course they will be perfect . . . won’t they?

One such example involves a hermit whom Howard visits annually. Nobody knows anything about him or how he lives. There’s never any sign of a fire, so how does he survive the harsh winters?

“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. . . ”

There are sermons interspersed and supposed excerpts from a clock book, none of which interested me. (Not that that matters.)

There are many other religious references. I liked this one, from Howard again, after a seizure.

“. . . this morning brought fear that there hid somewhere on one of the back roads that he intended to canvass another seizure, a bolt of lightning coiled behind a rock or stump or within the hollow of a tree or some strange next and which his passing would trigger to spring, to explode, and to impale him.

Such vanity! What gall to elect for yourself such attention, good or bad. Project yourself above yourself. Look at the top of your dusty hat: cheap felt, wilted and patched with scraps from the last wilted and patched felt hat. What a crown! What a king you are to deserve such displeasure, how important that God stop whatever is He is tending and pitch bolts at your head.”

I have said exactly that so often to people worried that God will smite them. Well, not exactly.

I did really enjoy this, and my quibbles seem petty in retrospect. Looking back, I remember many fascinating episodes and ruminations, but I can’t remember which boy/man said/felt what. Perhaps the intent was that they each be an extension of the other or that they overlap each other, or that we’re all living at the same time. I don’t pretend to know. (Not that that matters.)
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books768 followers
December 6, 2021

With this re-reading, I discovered I still couldn’t read the book straight through, as I hoped I might (see my original review below). There’s so much to take in within one sentence, much less one passage.

I found the language just as beautiful, even if this time I was a tad impatient with the (fictional) horologist’s sections. It also struck me that the detailed descriptions of the inner workings of clocks reads like historical fiction in our age of digital time-telling.

Most revelatory to me with this read was the insight I gained into the character of Kathleen, Howard’s wife, and, subsequently, other women like her. (December 1, 2021)


I'd love to reread this book one day and read it straight through without stopping (something I couldn't do as I was traveling). As it was, I did immediately reread many of its beautiful and complex sentences. After I finished the book, I thought of these sentences as a trail (perhaps that's because I did a lot of hiking on my trip) that leads you back to where you started. I first read these sentences in pieces, stopping to think, letting my mind settle on ideas and images, until I got to the end of the sentence and then I immediately started the sentence over again, not stopping the second time until I got to its end. Both 'hikes' were enjoyable, each time bringing different pleasures and insights.

I see that this book was published by the Bellevue Literary Press (affiliated with the NYU School of Medicine) and I understand why they did so -- not only for its obvious literary merits, but also for its treatment of epilepsy, mental illness and the human body as it is dying. (May 20, 2010)
Profile Image for smetchie.
143 reviews92 followers
December 11, 2011
This book is small and square.

I bought it at the airport Barnes & Noble en route to my hometown for my Grandfather's funeral. It's lovely small squareness caught my eye. The description on the back which reads "An old man lies dying." made me think it was serendipity. I read the first paragraph and it was all sealed up. This is some of the most wonderful writing I've come across in quite a long time. I'm thrilled to have found it and can't wait to share it.
Profile Image for Agnieszka.
258 reviews919 followers
July 18, 2019

In the middle of a living room there is a bed, and lying in there, surrounded by family, among well-known things, listening to the clocks he used to repair an old man embarks on a journey. But it is not an ordinary journey. While his weakened body heads for death and nothingness his disintegrate mind freely moves towards opposite direction having as a guide this unreliable companion that memory is. George Crosby, it’s his name, watchmaker and handyman, plagued by hallucinations recollects his life. Half dreaming, half sleeping shifts to family house to meet his father. Howard Crosby, suffering from epilepsy helpless house-to-house salesman, offering everything from soup to nuts, traveled forests and forbidding wilds of Maine to finally abandon family. Howard’s father, a preacher, also disappeared one day, but earlier preached more and more convoluted and incomprehensible sermons, letting the world separate from him. Fathers and sons.

George repairs clocks, his basement is full of them. Wall clocks, grandfather clocks, cuckoo clocks, pendulum clocks. George likes their intricate mechanisms seeing in them metaphor of universe.

Tinkers , small novel contrasting life with death, body with soul, time with eternity, man with nature is an attempt to understand and explore what life and humanity is. It's contemplative, brimming with melancholia an elegy for passing time, father - son relationship and determinism of blood ties. It’s restrained, spare, full of beautiful descriptions of nature prose depicting that unusual landscape remaining after the battle that every human life is.
Profile Image for Gerry Wilson.
Author 1 book12 followers
April 16, 2011
The story behind Tinkers is almost more fascinating than the book. It's a debut novel, and Harding had a hard time getting it published. A very small press--Bellevue (yes, affiliated with Bellevue Medical Center, NYC--they also produce a nice literary mag that publishes only works that deal with mind/body, life/death/loss, illness issues, etc.) and they printed a very limited number of copies.

Along comes the PULITZER! In an interview Harding says he found out he won on the Pulitzer website before he got the call. For aspiring writers, it's a fairy tale.

The book? Interesting. Dense. Short. Faulkner-like. VERY literary. Lovely, complex language. Harding breaks rules--for example, he switches from past to present time from one paragraph to the next. The book opens focused on one character and then seems to be "taken over" by another. The "frame" of the story is a dying man's last hours, in countdown mode; he's remembering his relationship with his father and his father's life. The only problem is Harding shifts the POV and the reader learns firsthand about George's father--details George could never know. It's a good book, maybe groundbreaking in the way he gets away with departure from convention (but not in a quirky way, which seems to have been the trend lately, so good for him!). It's a lovely little book, powerful in its own way, and worth reading.
Profile Image for ❀Julie.
96 reviews83 followers
March 4, 2016
I came across this book while looking for a “winter read” and was attracted to the cover. At the time I had just lost a long-distant great uncle whom I hadn’t seen in many years and given this story was about an old man dying somehow it sounded strangely appealing to me. I struggled with the book in the beginning and even thought about not finishing it. There were many times I had no idea where the story was going, much like how the person on the cover must have felt, trudging through drifting snow in a blinding blizzard. About halfway through though, I finally came to appreciate this introspective story. As the main character lies dying he is going in and out of consciousness and we are told stories of his past, his father’s and his grandfather’s. It’s a profound and moving story that makes you think about life and relationships, and making peace with loved ones. After finishing I had a much better appreciation for the beauty of this simple cover. This was not the most exciting read but the payoff ended up being surprisingly worth the effort. 4 stars
Profile Image for Michael Ferro.
Author 2 books211 followers
May 21, 2018
TINKERS is everything that I had hoped it would be: a quiet meditation on life and memory, a journey into worlds past, and a visceral exploration of the meaning in death, love, and family. Paul Harding has pried back the veneer from the usual quaint narrative of reflection and infused it with a beautiful, poetic dive into our individual subconscious. The vivid descriptions of a New England mostly gone are second only to the emotional realities on display lamenting his protagonist George Washington Crosby's battle with understanding the life of his long-lost father and reconciling the end of his own.

For a novel mainly about death, there is so much life breathed into Harding's prose. Whether it be the descriptions of the inner workings of an old grandfather clock, to the crisp, cool morning dew on the bed of a New England forest, there is such painstaking detail and care given here. It is no surprise that TINKERS won the Pulitzer, eschewing the ridiculous notion that small press novels are not worthy of the highest praise. I only wish that this were the case more often.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56k followers
June 17, 2019
Tinkers, Paul Harding
Tinkers (2009) is the first novel by American author, Paul Harding. The novel tells the stories of George Washington Crosby, an elderly clock repairman, and of his father, Howard. On his deathbed, George remembers his father, who was a tinker selling household goods from a donkey-drawn cart and who struggled with epilepsy.
تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز هفدهم ماه نوابر سال 2011 میلادی
عنوان: دوره‌ گردها؛ نویسنده: پل هاردینگ؛ مترجم: مجتبی ویسی؛ تهران، مروارید، 1389، 1391، در 216 ص؛ شابک: 9789641911364؛ داستانهای نویسندگان امریکایی - سده 21 م
دوره‌ گردها؛ جایزه ی پولیتزر سال 2010 میلادی را از آن خود کرده است. پیرمردی بر بستر، در آستانه‌ ی مرگ است. مرزهای زمان، كه در حافظه‌ اش برداشته می‌شوند، او نیز به سوی گذشته‌ ای دور، رهنمون می‌شود. هم آنجاست كه پدرش را بازمییابد، و از نو در قالب یک نوجوان فرومی‌رود؛ بازمی‌گردد، زیستی سرشار از شگفتی و رنج...؛ رمان دوره‌ گردها، مکاشفه‌ ای قصيده‌ وار است، در باب عشق، فقدان، و زیبایی سهمگین طبيعت؛ اثری که در آن واحد، هم مرثیه، هم مالامال از شور زندگی است. ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Lars Guthrie.
546 reviews170 followers
June 27, 2010
I tried, I tried to like 'Tinkers.' Everyone else does, right? It's a delightful surprise of a book, published by a tiny intellectual house, ignored by most of the major media, that came out of nowhere to the Pulitzer Prize and bestsellerdom.

Paul Harding is a master of his craft, composer of exquisite and copious sentences stuffed with crystalline and erudite language. Many of them, though, are about repairing clocks. I don't know, I felt like he was showing off instead of telling a story. I struggled to get through this compact little book, and its meandering pages and pages of detail.

There was a kind of story: a dying man and his unresolved relationship with his epileptic father, who deserted the family before his wife could commit him to a mental institution. Characters I could have loved, had there been more about them, and less about the light on fields and the springs of clocks.

You can have a good story where nothing happens--I'm thinking of Chris Ware's 'Jimmy Corrigan,' also about a son's ambivalent paternal connection--but even with the most accomplished artist, for me, substance trumps style. There wasn't enough substance in 'Tinkers' for me.

Profile Image for Barbara H.
684 reviews
February 3, 2023
Paul Harding's first book, Tinkers has totally amazed and delighted me. The fact that such a tiny novel could convey so much so well is a tribute to his literary skills. In an editorial in the Boston Globe, on April 16, 2010, it was reported how Harding was unable to find a publisher, passing the manuscript around to many houses, until a small publisher (Bellevue Literary Press)agreed to do it. Several people urged that the book be entered for the Pulitzer Prize and to waive the $50 submission fee. The writer went on to state, "Harding's rich prose drove some people to weep and many others to proselytize...it's worth remembering that some novels are still good enough to sell themselves." This causes me to wonder how many inferior books are accepted and even acclaimed!

Tinkers is not a novel with a linear plot, yet Harding's prose is so compelling and rich it is difficult to put it aside. It is deceptively simple, yet complex. An old man, George, is dying and we read of his memories, often disjointed, but a treat to one's senses. Within these evanescent thoughts Howard, his father is introduced. The sections relating to Howard were particularly appealing to me. He was a peddlar, traveling many miles year round. Father and son were both tinkers, menders and repairers of machine parts; in this case clocks of all types. Harding has added some whimsy to his descriptions of ancient timepieces with his accounts of fictional, yet credible(!)clockmakers and historians.

It would be easy to continue on and discuss each nugget which I discovered in this touching, sometimes humorous account. The passages of the seasons and the countryside were vivid, sometimes harsh, but often beautiful. Howard observed George fashioning a toy boat to sail:

"What of miniature boats constructed of birch bark and fallen leaves, launched onto cold water clear as air? How many fleets were pushed out toward the middles of ponds or sent down autumn brooks, holding treasures of acorns, or black feathers, or a puzzled mantis? Let those grassy crafts be listed alongside iron hulls that cleave the sea, for they are all improvisations built from the daydreams of men, and all will perish, whether from ocean seige or October breeze." (p.77)

Among the many lovely run-on sentences in this novel, Harding has treated the reader with many tangible, engaging images. One of the most unusual is a scene of the moving of a huge house with the power of "eight titanic oxen".

I have borrowed this book from the library, but I will now purchase it in order to further digest Harding's gifted, brilliant language. I have been totally captivated. His words sing to me! I look forward to future efforts by this talented, imaginative author.
Profile Image for Mark.
1,095 reviews137 followers
August 24, 2010

I picked up this book because (a) it was short and (b) it won the Pulitzer Prize.


For my tastes, it was actually two books: one was a set of compelling, clearly written and effective narratives about a dying man, George Crosby, his father, Howard and the people in their lives. The other was what I would call "Iowa Writers Workshop 101", including passages like this:

"The true essence, the secret recipe of the forest and the light and the dark was too fine and subtle to be observed with my blunt eye -- water sac and nerves, miracle itself, fine itself, light catcher. But the thing itself is not forest and light and dark, but something else scattered by my dumb intention ..." And so forth and so on.

If I had been able to weed out all these blowsy descriptions and musings, I would have been left with a 100-page novella of a father and son, with strong characters, compelling anecdotes, and a lot of pain and loss.

As it was, I also had to roll up my pantlegs and slosh through the marsh of ephemera, and once I reached solid ground, I found myself once again sighing at the state of modern literary novels.
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
August 7, 2010
ELEGIAC refers either to those compositions that are like elegies or to a specific poetic meter used in Classical elegies. An elegy is a mournful, melancholic or plaintive poem, especially a funeral song or a lament for the dead.

A tinker was originally an itinerant tinsmith, who mended household utensils. The term "tinker" was also used in British society to refer to marginalized persons. In this sense, "tinker" may mean: Irish Traveller, a nomadic or itinerant people of Irish origin; Scottish Travellers, a nomadic or intinerant people of Scottish origin; Gypsy or Quinqui.

Two words that I learned while reading this short novel that won its author, Paul Harding, 42, a teacher of creative writing in Iowa, the 2010 Pulitzer Prizes for Letters. This is his first novel. Wow.

Its blurb says that this "is an elegiac meditation on love, loss and the fierce beauty of nature." The key word is elegiac. Because it is a story about 3 fathers and how the life of the previous affects the next one. George is an old man, a father, husband, brother, grandfather and dying of cancer and *how can he be so unlucky,* kidney failure. While on his death bed, he reminisces his own father, Howard, 70 years ago as a "tinker" who sells all sorts of things loaded in his caravan going from one place to another to support a family of 5 with George as the eldest. Howard is an epileptic and at one point he accidentally bites George's hand. George feels love, pity and hate for his father so he runs away from home but Howard finds him hiding in a mysterious house. Look closely at the picture on the book cover. It is Howard walking, because George has his caravan and renting a mule costs a dollar a day (this happened in 1920's when 2 dollars a day can support a day's needs of family with six members) on a snow covered field. Howard's father, Reverend Crosby is a Methodist pastor who suffers from Alzheimer's. Looks like being crazy in the head runs in the family but having these kinds of characters still work with Pulitzer kibitzers that's why this got the nod of those people.

For me what made this novel quite extraordinary is its prose. Words are carefully selected, almost precise. For the detailed description of how to construct a bird's nest, to how the surrounding looks like, how in George's imagination the house and the sky seem to be falling on him in his deathbed. The elegiac mood persisted throughout the novel but you will end up triumphant and contented. Triumphant because you understand his message of parent's love being boundless and endless without spending so much time (like reading Midnight's Children for 5 days) and contented because when you close the book, there is something that remains in you: the reminder that you cherish the time you spent loving for your child (if you are a parent) or your still-living parent (if you are a child).

In fact my favorite line has this:

page 66
"-but anyway, personal mysteries, like where is my father, why can't I stop all the moving and look out over the vast arrangements and find by the contours and colors and qualities of light where my father is, not to solve anything but just simplify even to see it again one last time, before what, before it ends, before it stops. But it doesn't stop; it simply ends. It is a final pattern scattered without so much as a pause at the end, at the end of what, at the end of this."

Beautiful. Simply beautiful.
Profile Image for Sue.
1,229 reviews527 followers
October 11, 2013
This was different from most reading experiences I've had because of Harding's use of language. Using simple language in non-simple, metaphorical ways, he describes the last days of an elderly man who is dying at home--the memories of his youth, his father, the natural world he recalls, the clocks he fixed as both vocation and avocation. The clock metaphor runs through the book and the descriptions of nature are poetic. Though this is a slim volume it is dense in what it presents to the reader. Take your time over it; enjoy the glory of the descriptive language.

At times it may seem disjointed by moving between times and characters--father, son, grandfather--but I feel that this is more than compensated for by the overall effect of the descriptions of the natural world and the process of George's gentle dying surrounded by family.

10/10/13--after thinking about this for a while, I've decided to raise the rating to 5. I read this early in my time here at GR and I think that influenced my rating downward, having little for comparison here though plenty of reading experience. I hadn't thought qualitatively in the same way before. This book has stayed with me over the past 3 years and certain images remain, a mark of a very strong, wonderfully written book.
Profile Image for Janet Leszl.
Author 1 book5 followers
October 18, 2010
To me, it would have been a powerful story if it had been edited down to somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of its volume. In many cases there were so many side stories that had no bearing on the meat of the tale. Was it really important to fully describe the picture on the box of scissors he retrieved to make the woven frame in the field?

As I was reading, I made a note to myself: too many pretty words strung together just for the sake of flowery prose. At times the writing was beautiful but at others it seemed superfluous. I think one of the elements of the writer’s style that bothered me most though, was his tendency to repeat the same words in close proximity to each other. He did this quite a bit and I found it jarring to the eye. I’d wonder if I was accidentally beginning to reread a phrase only to discover that no it was the author who seemed to be stuck in a loop. I understand repetition can be done for effect, but in my opinion he should have occasionally used a thesaurus. Clarity of meaning was often sacrificed in favor of the author's particular style.
Profile Image for Sarah.
533 reviews
December 4, 2014
I so, so recommend this...and not for narcissistic reasons. This is a book that transcends personal identity.

It's about loneliness, human frailty, fathers and sons, time and eternity. It's about so many things! If you like dense, complex writing, you should definitely read this. And, slowly. And, repeatedly.

Tinkers is truly remarkable… It confers on the reader the best privilege fiction can afford, the illusion of ghostly proximity to other human souls.”—Marilynne Robinson
Profile Image for Dan.
1,077 reviews52 followers
January 9, 2018
Tinkers is a brilliant short novel that won The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2010. I would categorize the book as an inter-generational saga in the naturalist and realistic fiction vein, ala Emile Zola or Wallace Stegner. Tinkers asynchronously portrays the lives, or vignettes thereof, of a father and son living in rural New England and does so masterfully with a sparsity of words. A grandfather clock acts as the obvious metaphor for the life and story of George, the son, as he marches to his end. As with most good realistic fiction each event that happens is relatable although there are a few plot twists.

The imagery that Harding employs throughout the book is really quite vivid and notable for its sparseness such as this passage about Howard the father who traveled the sales circuit each day by wagon or on foot ...

“ Besides fixing pots and selling soap, these are some of the things that Howard did at one time or another on his rounds, sometimes to earn extra money, mostly not: shoot a rabid dog, deliver a baby, put out a fire, pull a rotten tooth, cut a man’s hair, sell five gallons of homemade whiskey for a backwoods bootlegger named Potts, fish a drowned child from a creek.”

The section where Howard pulls the hermit’s tooth is memorable, here are two representative passages mashed together.....

“ The man whose tooth he pulled was named Gilbert. Gilbert was a hermit who lived deep in the woods along the Penobscot River. He seemed not to live in any shelter other than the woods themselves, although some men who hunted in the woods for deer and bear and moose speculated that he might live in some forgotten trapper’s cabin. Others thought he might live in a tree house of some sort, or at least a lean-to. In all the years he was known to live in the forest, never had a winter hunting party seen so much as the ashes from a fire or a single footprint. No one could imagine how a man could survive one winter alone and exposed ....... At first, Gilbert refused any liquor, but when Howard grabbed the tooth with the pliers, the old man passed out. Howard dashed a handful of cold river water on Gilbert’s face. The hermit came to and motioned for the whiskey, which he drank in a single draft, then passed out again from the alcohol on the bedeviled tooth. Another splash of water revived Gilbert, and the two men sat for a time watching a pair of sparrows chase a crow above the fir trees on the other side of the river” Eventually Howard gets the tooth out.

I can’t praise this book enough. I’m looking forward to the second book, Enon, which also received its share of plaudits.
Profile Image for Tony.
897 reviews1,482 followers
September 9, 2013
So, I started writing two book about 30 years ago. One is a novel and one is kind of a memoir. They could not be more inchoate. Which is to say: I have written the first line of each book and not a sentence more. But I like the first lines. I won't write them here. But, so you know, each first line is about my father.

For me, all of this - all of this - is an attempt to figure out just who the hell I am. No psychiatrist's couch for me. Just novels that bleed and paintings that cry; music (why does she turn the volume down in the car so she can talk on the cellphone?), always music. But I will never know who I am until I know who he was.

Paul Harding has written here about Fathers and Sons. He has no ultimate answers either, but it's a wonderful ride.

My father was a strange, gentle man. A well-placed comma. And, by the way, yes he was.

His despair came from the the fact that his wife saw him as a fool, as a useless tinker, a copier of bad verse from two-penny religious magazines, an epileptic, and could find no reason to turn her head and see him as something better.

I won't tell you the plot. That would miss the point. Instead, I would tell you, grow old. Feel the pain in your knees walking up the stairs and think about the shrapnel in his leg. Hold your grandson, and hope he will be there at the end. Err, and forgive him.
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
774 reviews
August 6, 2020
I read this last year, soon after I heard Marilynne Robinson speak about the workshop in Iowa where she teaches and where Paul Harding was a participant.
I admired the way Harding tinkered with time in this book—the counting down of the last days of a man who liked to repair clocks—while seamlessly roving back and forth through the man's past life and that of his father, a traveling salesman.
The writing was beautiful too, especially in the passages dealing with the father and his relationship with the countryside he travelled through.
Profile Image for T. Greenwood.
Author 18 books1,658 followers
May 2, 2011
When I teach Plot in my creative writing classes, I return again and again to Anne Lamott who says, "You need to be moving your characters forward, even if they only go slowly. Imagine moving them across a lily pond. If each lily pad is beautifully, carefully written, the reader will stay with you as you move toward the other side of the pond, needing only the barest of connections -- such as rhythm, tone, or mood (Bird by Bird, 59). This is a lily pad novel. The writing is lovely, elegiac in tone, and meticulous. This may very well be enough for some readers. However, I am not sure these beautifully constructed lily pads were quite enough for me. Perhaps the pond beneath was too murky.

This novel purports to be the story of George Washington Crosby, a clock repairman, as he lies on his deathbed. However, the novel's locus soon shifts to George's father, Howard, an epileptic traveling salesman who abandons his family when his wife decides to have him committed. We also see glimpses of Howard's father, a failed preacher. The book shifts back and forth among these characters, revealing the tenuous relationships that exist between these fathers and sons. While very little actually happens in the novel by way of plot, its scope is fairly grand, examining themes of fatherhood and absence and inheritance.

But what I found most frustrating about this novel was not that so little happened, but that those events that were dramatized felt (at times) arbitrary. I wanted Harding to achieve what Tobias Wolf manages in "Bullet in the Brain". But while Wolf captures (in three pages) an entire life in that moment before death, I felt like I had only the most impressionistic sense of George's life after nearly 200 pages in Harding's novel. This coupled with the also seemingly arbitrary shifts in point of view and lack of any cohesive structure left me frustrated and eager for the novel to end.

I champion the quiet novel, and there was much to be admired in Harding's ambition and prose. But there are other novels and stories that have done it better; Evening by Susan Minot is one.
Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,865 reviews421 followers
November 8, 2020
When I was in a high school creative writing class, the teacher recommended we start a notebook where we copied sentences and phrases from books that struck us as beautiful or beautifully constructed. It was a wonderful idea to me! I loved perusing it every once and while. In this way I discovered I had whatever genes people who love to read poetry and gorgeous writing have. Something in my heart and head responds with pleasure to beautiful words and sentences, and to clever and intellectual literary brain-candy writing! But I did not believe these lovely disconnected examples of superior writing created a story which would entertain or thrill me for a few hours of joy in forgetting myself by diving deep into an interesting fictional world.

This is what is wrong about 'Tinkers' by Paul Harding to me - it is very similar to that hodgepodge notebook I kept of beautiful sentences and phrases from books and magazine short stories. There IS a story somewhere in this beautifully poetic Arty high-end novella - something about Death, Memory, Family (especially three generations of fathers, in this case), History, Humiliations, Love - but mostly, it is a MFA Iowa Workshop masterpiece.

Or, in other words, ick ick. Bite me.

Harding teaches writing at Harvard University and he has an MFA from the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Like all of the graduates from this (in)famous workshop, Harding has written a novel to please high-end American and certain European award institutions who also swoon at the academic Arty meanings of a museum artwork that consists of a cross sitting in a pail of manure, or a pubic hair pasted on a real banana, or of a large plain box sitting in the center of a room all by itself called "butt".

I made up the preceding examples, gentle reader, but I based these examples on real museum artworks.

Books which are products of or are similar to the same products of the famous Iowa Writer's Workshop MFA program are The Starless Sea, Lincoln in the Bardo, Stone Arabia, Eat the Apple: A Memoir, Hopscotch, House of Leaves, Omensetter's Luck, any Japanese high-end novel, actually, like Kafka on the Shore, and A Visit from the Goon Squad, to name but a few.

I DO actually LIKE like some of these high-end literary Iowa Writer's Workshop products or its wannabe clones, but most seem like a combination of a madman's noir dream diaries cleaned up to appear like literary fantasies drowning in literary symbolism or experimental fiction using Modernist or Post-Modernist deconstruction techniques. These books are not written for the average reader but for high-end Arty critics, award institutions and tenure committees. Some ARE truly original and intellectually exciting to me.

But not 'Tinkers', imho.

Reader, my opinion is REALLY a humble one, as I do not have a Literature or Art degree. I am sort of a "continuing student', the kind who, after retirement, takes an evening class at a community college or a senior activity center. I read probably too much, and the only talent I have is reading fast. I have developed a real dislike of the novels writers write after graduating from the Iowa Writer's Workshop and others similar to it. Some book products which result from attending these MFA programs are definitely cool. They are intellectually playful and original, and yet are able to maintain the telling of a story and keep readers hooked by strong character development. However. But. To me, most of these high-end MFA-designed novels are cookie-cutter Great-Literary-Award-Winner by the numbers. Guaranteed to win the Pulitzer and the Booker.

Gentle reader, do yourself a favor and do not read every Arty critic's recommended literary novel of the year that came out every year for the last fifteen years as I kinda have. Or if you do, I recommend quitting the read after fifty pages if it seems exactly much like the one you read a few months ago. Unless you never tire of MFA literary reads no matter how common the symbols, no matter how twisty the Timeline, no matter the brilliant pastiche of whatever MFA work currently in vogue in this or previous decade. Life is too short.

I still love clever ORIGINAL multi-dimensional, symbolic, sometimes pastiche, literary and genre works of Art, gentle reader. It's possible I am becoming a low-rent burned-out snob, I guess. You have been warned.
Profile Image for Sean.
998 reviews19 followers
May 5, 2011
It's truly a testament to an author's ability to write when he puts me to sleep after two pages. I don't think if I tried I could bore a reader to sleep in two pages. I mean how does that even work? I have no idea what the story is about nor who the characters are, yet by the middle of page two I want to slit my wrists.

This actually won the Pulitzer? So I guess that's as meaningless as any other award. What's so awful about telling a story? Why is that so loathed among "writers" today? Why does anyone think that character background equals a book?

This is apparently the touching story of an old man about to die who thinks back on his life. Imagine a person sitting down beside you and saying, "Let me tell about this guy I once knew, let me just tell you about his whole life, in sort of random order." Would you not blow your brains out?

The writing could not be more blandly professional. There is not an original thought in here, at least in as much as I read, which wasn't much, I couldn't help but skim it until I fell asleep.

Umm...Nick, if mom is reading this review to you--sorry! Thanks for the thought!
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,498 followers
July 30, 2012
This short luminous volume reads more like poetry than a novel with a traditional narrative. I enjoyed its revelations in the same way I did the equally outstanding "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson. While he is dying and drifts in and out of lucidity, George reflects on events from his childhood growing up in rural Maine and Massachusetts and dwells on metaphors about life gleaned from his retirement avocation of repairing clocks. From these stepping stones, we slip into extended vignettes from the life of his father Howard in the 20's, a travelling salesman whose epilepsy led him to leave his family when George was young. The links between Howard as a tinker and George as a clock fixer nicely elucidate alternate metaphors for human agency in the world. The kaleidoscopic shattering of Howard's reality by his seizures and its elemental reconstruction in their aftermath was brilliantly conveyed.
Profile Image for Bam cooks the books ;-).
1,820 reviews225 followers
January 5, 2017
I read through this short gem of a book twice, the second time to more appreciate the beautiful writing. It is a wonderful story of love and family relationships told through the thoughts of George Crosby, the clock repairer, as he lays dying. His memories come in disjointed bits, in streams of consciousness. He especially remembers his father, Howard, who was an itinerant peddler and tinkerer in the back country of Maine and suffered frequent fits of epilepsy. During the one fit George actually witnesses, George's hand is badly bitten as he tries to keep his father from biting his own tongue. Howard deserts his family rather than be sent to an asylum.
Howard tells his own story, in his turn, and remembers his father who was a Methodist minister who developed dementia and was 'taken away.' Howard's fits begin shortly after he spends a cold night immersed in a pond looking for his father. He tries to understand what happens to his mind and body during an attack, which often begin with an aura, and he reckons that he is overfilled with pure, unconscious energy, like lightning. The most interesting thing about Howard though is his hyper-awareness of nature as he travels the countryside which inspires some beautiful poetic thoughts.
Paul Harding does a remarkable job of describing what happens to the body as one dies through George's awareness of the changes taking place in his body at the end. And overlaying all, there is the theme of ticking clockworks and that our bodies and the universe run on similar principles, winding down in the end. Beautiful story.
BTW, here is what the Pulitizer committee had to say about the novel when they awarded it the prize for fiction in 2010: "A powerful celebration of life in which a New England father and son, through suffering and joy, transcend their imprisoning lives and offer new ways of perceiving the world and mortality."

Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,395 followers
November 18, 2010
Well, I really don't like giving one star reviews--usually. But truthfully, I not only didn't like Tinkers, I hated it. Paul Harding has gotten his kudos in the form of an award and bestsellerdom. He does not need everyone in the world to admire his story. And in fact, I do believe it is the story itself I disliked so intensely--not the writer, nor even the writing. He clearly has some talent: the book is slim, which I like. Too many authors feel they need to pontificate too long. But thank the lord it didn't go on any longer.

The book was unnecessarily tragic and claustrophobic--even those of us with absolutely cruddy lives still get up each day hoping for something better. Grey clouds scudding across a winter sky can even be beautiful, especially if one can describe the soft quality of morning light in a sunless northern exposure. The long descriptive paragraphs left me cold. I found myself gnashing my teeth in something that felt much like fury. Perhaps it is just the time of my life, but I really can't rustle up any more sympathy for morose regret. You plays your cards, you gets your chances. If you are lucky, you may contribute something; if you are luckier, you will enjoy doing it.
Profile Image for Mel.
105 reviews23 followers
August 11, 2014
If I could give this book 500 stars, I would. It was beyond description in its beauty. As soon as I finished, I wanted to reread it.

My friend Nellie who recommended it to me said, "The book is one giant quote." She was right. There was not a sentence that didn't make me ache in the best possible way.

"When the 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."
Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,131 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.