June 29, 2012 by Reader's Connection
George Crosby is a tinker, or used to be. He used to fix antique clocks. Now he’s lying on a rented hospital bed in his living room, dying. His father, Howard, had been a tinker, in addition to being a brush and mop salesman with a mule-drawn cart. People sometimes say that we should all be closer to nature, but Howard, with his visions and seizures, was more a part of nature than most of us would want to be.
Paul Harding’s Tinkers moves around in time, telling the story of this father and son. I say the tinkers are back because the novel was already featured in this blog when it won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010, and again last year when it was discussed at the Wayne Branch.
So why am I bringing it up again? Because I just read it, and I feel the urge to make one of those If you like announcements. It will be my first one in almost four years of blogging. Here goes: If you like Marilynne Robinson’s novel Housekeeping, you’ll like Tinkers. And vice versa. The kinship of these two novels would have occurred to me even if Marilynne Robinson’s praise didn’t appear on the front and back covers of my Tinkers paperback.
In a post three years ago , I said that Housekeeping was one long meditation on human identity, on our transient place in the universe. The book isn’t particularly long, so that word is confusing, but otherwise I still agree with what I said; and the same goes for Tinkers.
Both novels involve families that come apart, though not in a way that invites me to sit in judgment and mutter about irresponsible parents. I’m too busy being frightened. These families drift the way our earth’s tectonic plates drift, or the way clouds drift.
Both titles are ironic. George and Howard Crosby tinker with clocks and what-all, trying to give some shape to existence, but are especially subject to the chaos of life. And housekeeping, the maintaining of any kind of stability at home, is the hardest thing in the world for the sisters in Robinson’s novel.
I know of people who loved Housekeeping–I’m one of them, but I’ve heard of others–and I encourage all of them to read Tinkers. And Tinkers lovers–even if they didn’t like some of Robinson’s more recent novels–should give her first novel Housekeeping a chance.