George Crosby remembered many things as he died, but in an order he could not control. (p. 18)
Tinkers is about George Crosby’s final days. Lying in bed in the front room of his house, surrounded by family, he takes a mental journey through his life, as well as his father’s. His thoughts meander in a mostly slow and meditative way. The prose is richly descriptive and even dreamlike in places:
The afternoon became warm, and with the warmth the first bees appeared, and each little bee settled in a yellow cup and took suck like newborn. Howard stopped Prince Edward, even though he was behind in his rounds, and gave the mule a carrot and stepped into the field full of flowers and bees, who seemed not to mind his presence in the least, who seemed, in fact, in their spring thrall, to be unaware of his presence at all. Howard closed his eyes and inhaled. He smelled cold water and cold, intrepid green. Those early flowers smelled like cold water. Their fragrance was not the still perfume of high summer; it was the mineral smell of cold, raw green. (p. 60)
Throughout his adult life, George carefully concealed the scars left by his father’s abandonment. On his deathbed it all comes back to him, but he also begins to see that paternal abandonment, while manifested in different forms, goes back at least two generations. At 80, George has broken the cycle. And he has inherited a more positive, useful quality: that of a “tinker.” George’s father sold goods to country folk and handled all manner of small repairs along the way. George repairs clocks, and his memories are interrupted by excerpts from an 1870s clock repair manual.
I first heard about Tinkers when it won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and I couldn’t wait to read it. This type of book is typically right up my street. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. I just couldn’t get into the rhythm. Maybe it was my mood. Or perhaps it was because I kept comparing it to two other books I loved, which explore similar themes: Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and Home. Whatever the reason, and despite the beautiful writing, something about Tinkers fell short for me.