An impressive debut novel. Harding beautifully articulates unique and complex scenes with wild imagery. There are some passages that come across as racist; when Howard discusses his memories of two Indians living in the area, making a living as trackers guiding hunting parties and building canoes, he makes them into archetypes. The quintessential fathomless Native Americans with all the secrets of the natural world locked up within themselves: “…he seemed to relinquish himself as a particular man and become the embodiment of some eternal thing that itself stood outside of time and whose existence as any given person was merely circumstantial” (164), for example. However, it’s also possible that this is only meant to represent Howard’s attitudes, and the attitudes of the white people living in the area, generations ago, when attitudes like that were de rigeur. Harding may have intended this passage as a subtle comment on those attitudes, and not as an example of his own beliefs. Though it took me several readings to come to that conclusion, and I would say you should just decide for yourself.
I suspect this will be one of those books I come to appreciate more and more as it percolates into my psyche over the next few days, now that I’ve finished reading it. It wasn’t one I found particularly emotionally expensive, which was kind of a relief, but if you’ve lost a family member to a neurodegenerative disease or something similar you may find this challenging at points. Just a heads up.
At some point I’m quite certain I read a blurb about this book saying that it was George reminiscing on his life, as seen from other people’s viewpoints. I can’t for the life of me find where I got that idea from, although I really like it. It’s not at all what happens in Tinkers though. I must have read half the book expecting that to start happening at any moment. Tinkers is really narrated almost entirely by George’s father Howard. Who recounts his own childhood. It’s very well done and impeccably believable, but it’s not George remembering his own life. Or Howard remembering George’s life. Although it does bounce back and forth between George and Howard, and occasionally their respective wives. It can be hard to keep track of who is relating a particular segment as it changes in the middle of a chapter. Backtracking a page or two sorted things out right away though. And the book as a whole is well worth the little effort necessary to keep the story straight. By all means seek out this book. Sit down with it sometime when you’re feeling too hot and maybe a little jaded with the universe. Harding’ll set you right.