Sunday, June 27, 2010
I didn't want to read Tinkers at first. It won the Pulitzer Prize and I haven't always been a fan of the Pulitzer Prize winning books. However, looking at a list the Pulitzer Prize winners yesterday, I realized that while there are some I have not liked so well (The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Lonesome Dove, Gilead), there are some I have liked a lot...Middlesex, Interpreter of Maladies, The Stone Diaries, Beloved...Tinkers will join the ranks of the latter for me.
In Tinkers, George Washington Carver is dying, and while he's dying, he's hallucinating and remembering people and events in the meandering way that very old people often do. Tinkers reminded me of Susan Minot's Evening, with its wandering narrative...
"George Crosby remembered many things as he died, but in an order he could not control. To look at his life, to take the stock he always imagined a man would at his end, was to witness a shifting mass, the tiles of a mosaic spinning, swirling, reportraying, always in recognizable swaths of colors, familiar elements, molecular units, intimate currents, but also independent now of his will, showing him a different self every time he tried to make an assessment."
Tinkers is one of those rare books that needs to be read slowly, like Marilynn Robinson's Housekeeping, savored like chocolate on the tongue. (And yes, I didn't like Gilead and I LOVED Housekeeping, both by Marilynne Robinson. go figure.)
Some of the positive blurbs about the book (one even written by Marilynne Robinson!), rave about how the book has evocative passages about clocks and birdhouses. And indeed it does. However, what impressed me, sometimes even startled me with their radiance, are the passages that seem to capture a person sentence or short paragraph...
"Ray Morrell already, at twelve years old, had the air of a chaste, fastidious old bachelor, someone who knew about commemorative coins and prevailing winds and who, already, had a taste for the turpentinelike bathtub gin his father always had a bottle of stashed away under the basement stairs."
and...(The passage below, which goes on for a bit longer in the book, literally took my breath away.)
"Her stern manner and her humorless regime mask bitterness far deeper than any of her children or her husband imagine. She has never recovered from the shock of becoming a wife and then a mother. She is still dismayed every morning when she first sees her children, peaceful, sleeping, in their beds when she goes to wake them, that as often as not the feeling she has is one of resentment, of loss. These feelings frighten her so much that she has buried them under layer upon layer of domestic strictness. She has managed, in the dozen years since becoming a wife and mother, to half-convince herself that this nearly martial ordering of her household is, in fact, the love that she is so terrified that she does not have."
and even a dog...
"The children were astonished by the ham that Kathleen had cooked for the Christmas meal. It was the largest they had ever seen. it was covered in a crust of brown sugar and molasses. Buddy the Dog sat at attention, as if recommending himself to the ham over the children by his proper manners."
This small, spare book recounts George, his father and mother (Howard and Kathleen), as well as Howard's father and mother. Sometimes it's hard to tell who's "talking" or remembering at a particular point, which usually bugs me, however I haven't seemed to mind in this book.
I am enjoying this.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm almost done reading it. I need to get back to it.