Book Review: Tinkers

May 26, 2015

tinkersFor better or worse an usually both, our parents affect us. It’s easy to make a political statement in light of this book, fathers matter. And so do mothers but because fathers are more often the ones who abandon than mothers and the one who abandons in Paul Hardings’ book, it is painfully clear that fathers matter. Few say, though it does seem to be getting more and more repetition, mothers don’t matter, whether directly or by example. But fathers for time immemorial have been told they don’t matter because fathers so often are given the strict role of provider, maintainer an leader when that role becomes impossible or simply difficult for them to accomplish they -sometimes, vanish. In my own life I’ve seen this happen. I can recall two women specifically whose children’s fathers simply disappeared either for a period of time or indefinitely. They were both men unable to provide financially for their families and their non relationship or negative relationship with the mothers only compounded the issue, so they left. Women are given so many routes by which to mother -financially, emotionally, physically, etc. Anyway despite this, fathers matter. Whether low life, deatbeat or indifferent we don’t forget. George didn’t forget.

George is the center of Paul Harding’s Tinkers. The story takes place in his room as he lay dying surrounded by his loved ones. His mind drifts back to his childhood and his father who disappeared when he was a young boy. The story also takes us further back to his fathers childhood and his memories of his own father, a three generational tale of how of fathers shape us. I mention his father specifically because there is sometimes an urge to pretend as though a decent childhood has little to do with our mom and dad but merely our being loved but an absent parent is still an absent parent. George’s life went on, he got married, had children and a successful job but it’s not merely the outward that counts. His father may not have hurt his ability to become decent but his abandonment left a mark, a memory, that wasn’t simply washed away with time.

Something draws us to our parents for neither good nor bad but in itself. We long to know who they were before being parents, what their life and their childhoods were like, when they met each other, when they decided to get married, when they were silent, why they yelled, their smiles both faint and wide, their undying love for us or the burning questions when it all goes wrong -why didn’t they love us? why didn’t they stay? George’s dying memories take him back to those painful times of unanswered questions but it also simply takes us back. Tinkers is a book you have to be patient with, it won’t come out all at once and it is at times, painful. Not solely in it’s events but in the depths of it’s details, its long trailing off in to nothingness, a slow an purposeful reflection on the most minuscule of things. It is the kind of book that will sometimes have you screaming “get to the point!” but if you’re patient and sit with it you’ll realize it (the moments of uneventfulness) is also the point. Life is not merely filled with high points and low points there are lengths of spaces in between that make us question if this is really it.

In my own reflection I think Harding takes these long slow uneventful moments to bring us deep inside the life and mind of George. To take us from event to event would be to cheat us, that’s not how life works, that’s also not how death works and George is dying. Family lineage and death are two of the least meditated issues of modern society. Scientists continue imagine that they are only moments away from discovering a cure for death and the latest political movement tells us love -not mom and dad, is all you need. Yet with all the talk of the modern world, death and lineage cannot just go away. Every soul is given life by the union of a woman and a man, a mom and a dad whose stories are a part of us. And every soul has reached death, chances are every soul will.

The matter of George’s death bring us to both at once, I found it to be a deeply valuable book.

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