Literary Criticism and Significance

In the book Tinkers, author Paul Harding blends stream-of-consciousness musings and excerpts from an eighteenth century clock-repair manual with gentle, probing prose to create an intricate exploration about life, death, memory, fathers, and sons. Using the metaphor of central character George Crosby's love for clocks, the author contrasts the concise world of life as delineated by passing time with the elusive, ordered chaos discovered when man tries to understand the mysteries of his existence and inevitable demise. The novel, at less than two hundred pages, is short, but it is packed with meaning as it delves into the inscrutable core of the human experience.

The title of the book is significant. George's father Howard is a tinker, a man who mends things, a craftsman with many skills. Because of the nature of his occupation, he works in isolation, a condition that suits him because it allows him to keep the fact of his epilepsy secret from the world. In quiet desperation, he travels the backroads of his neighborhood alone in a constant quest for a sale or an odd job in order to provide for his family. In so doing, he ironically serves as a messenger of sorts, building connections with the customers he encounters and keeping them in contact with the web of a wider experience by receiving and sharing their stories. In the same way, George is a tinker too, as is everyone who labors with solitary doggedness through life, always establishing small connections along the way in relationship and understanding. Even in the face of the realization that "everything (is) almost always obscure," humankind is composed of seekers and messengers, the former finding the latter in brief, passing encounters, the messenger, like the tinker, conveying his missive in the simple act of "trying to sell an old horse, or serving...breakfast at an inn, or complaining about politicians during the morning coffee break." With amazing skill and originality, Harding captures the essence of the human condition, humankind baffled by the mysteries of life and death, living out its allotted time, longing for connection and finding it only fleetingly, in bits and pieces, like the poignant relationship between fathers and sons.

Paul Harding's first novel Tinkers is notable for its depth of content and the spareness and lyricism of its innovative style. Published in 2009, it was the winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished fiction by an American author.