It seems like a good book for Portland, Paul Harding said of his new novel Tinkers. "Perfect for a gloomy Saturday afternoon." Harding was speaking to a small crowd at the Someday Lounge on Monday, January 19, at the first-ever, Powell's hosted Indiespensable Happy Hour. Indiespensable is a subscription-based book club that features special-edition printings of books from independent publishing houses—Tinkers, out from Bellevue Literary Press, is the eighth book in the series, and while it's too late to score the sold-out indiespensable edition, the book is still worth picking up.
Tinkers is a remarkable debut that superimposes a dying man's reminiscences with those of his father, a tinker (odds and ends salesman) in rural Maine, and his grandfather, a preacher in even more rural Maine. It's a methodical little book—the main character is a horologist, a repairer of clocks—that marries an interest in the world's works and gears with remarkably lifelike descriptions of nature. And in leapfrogging between three generations of men, Harding subtly delineates a changing world; a father is paid in nickels, a son in $100 bills. Harding is a particularly gifted nature writer, resisting any drift toward the over-poetic and sticking to spare, straightforward sentences that have a lot to offer.
The tinker, Howard, has epilepsy, and one day in the fugue state that precedes a seizure he finds himself in a field, after a storm, at the end of spring:
"Howard closed his eyes and inhaled. He smelled cold water and cold, intrepid green. Those early flowers smelled like cold water. Their fragrance was not the still perfume of high summer; it was the mineral smell of cold, raw green. He crouched to look at a daffodil. Its six-petaled corona was fully unfurled, like a bright miniature sun. A bee crawled in its cup, massaging stigma and anther and style. Howard leaned as closely as he dared (he imagined sniffing the poor bee into his nose, the subsequent sting, the unfortunate wound, the plucked and dead creature on its back in the flattened, cold grass) and inhaled again. "