This is the helpful thing about stories: their secluded existence gives them significance. In other words, you could read a sentence on a billboard driving down the highway and not think anything of it. But if that same sentence is in a story, you assume it has meaning, and you assign to it a few extra brain cells. You think: what is the significance of this. And, most of the time, you are rewarded. That is why we tell stories, to break up our days into small moments of significance.
Tinkers first caught my eye when I stopped into a bookstore in Dupont Circle on a cold day. It is a small book with a mostly white cover and a simple name. The endorsement on the top from Marilynne Robinson reads, "Tinkers is truly remarkable." I know Marilynne from Home, which I enjoyed. So I made a mental note.
When I brought Tinkers home from the library a few weeks ago, any emotion behind the initial draw had faded, and I began reading the first page with a fairly open mind. I feel somewhat ripped off in my experience reading this book, though. I read it in short snippets, mostly on my oft-interrupted lunch breaks at work, which is precisely how this book should not be read.
Tinkers is a story of generations of men woven together by blood and time. George is dying and as his mind enters in and out of lucidity he recalls seemingly small moments in his impoverished life. As George remembers his father, Howard, with whom he has an estranged relationship, we move into his, Howard's, mind. Learning about Howard is revealing, as ordinary things are wont to be when they are set in the confines of bound pages with a publisher's stamp of approval. And Howard recalls his father. And George's grandson is near George's deathbed. Howard was an epileptic. Howard's father went insane. And their stories, seen altogether and at once, accumulate into a formidable tale that takes on the weight of life and death and time and space: reminding the reader that we cannot understand fully the mystery that lies in everyday occurrences. It does, however, remind us of the worthwhile-ness of being reminded of the mystery that lies in everyday occurrences.
Harding's writing was tedious at first. I will admit that I struggled through this book until the half-way point. Marilynne kept me going. And at the half-way point is when I stopped reading it on my lunch breaks and when it started getting much better, leading up until the end when I set it down, took a moment of silence, and resigned myself to the fact that I have a long, long way to go. It was a humbling book on many levels. Did I mention Harding received a Pulitzer Prize for Tinkers? In my opinion, it was very much deserved.
Harding's writing is not tedious. It is original and poetic and perfectly fitting for the tone of the book. Listen to his first two tips for good writing:
1. Write as precisely and as lucidly and as richly as you can about what you find truly mysterious and irreducible about human experience, and not obscurely about what will prove to be received opinion or cliché once the reader figures out your stylistic conceit. There’s all the difference in the world between mystery and mystification.
2. Contrary to all those times you’ve heard a writer confess at a reading that he writes fiction because he is a pathological liar, fiction writing is all about telling the truth. Don’t confine truth to fact. Imaginative truth is as powerful and often enough more so than fact. William Hazlitt wrote that poetry (and by extension, fiction) is the language of the imagination and it, “is not the less true to nature, because it is false in point of fact; but so much the more true and natural, if it conveys the impression which the object under the influence of passion makes on the mind.”
Good, isn't it? I highly recommend the rest of his tips, too. I felt I learned so much from simply reading Harding, that I almost felt I couldn't accept such a gift as coming across actual writing tips on top of everything else. We all might as well have won the lottery, really.
Have you read Tinkers? I would love to know what you thought of it. There is so much imagery and so many metaphors that could be hashed out and discussed over a bottle of wine. If you read Tinkers, invite yourself over and we can spend an evening in just such a way.
Jenny blogs over at Jeneric Generation, a place where she does her best not to be generic by pushing herself creatively and starting conversations with her readers (because she loves them).
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