Saturday, May 31, 2014

Tinkers by Paul Harding (Winner, 2010)

Tinkers is a quiet book concerning human connection, death, and simplicity of action. The main character, George, is on his death bed, surrounded by his life, his family, and most importantly his thoughts. George remembers his father, long dead, who worked as a peddler of pots, thread, soap and the like. He remembers his father's work as a presence in his customer's lives, frequently performing acts of service outside his sales. One particular moving story is about his father's sales to a hermit named Gilbert – or Gilbert the Hermit as some people referred to him. Gilbert bought twine and tobacco from George's father, who walked into the woods to sell it to him every year. One year, George's father meets Gilbert with twine and tobacco but Gilbert begs, with grunts and hand motions, for help removing a tooth. George's father at first refuses, then peforms the bloody, rudimentary surgery with a pair of pliers and some corn whiskey. Afterwards Gilbert the Hermit is so grateful he leaves a generous gift, late at night, at George's father's door– an early inscribed copy of the Scarlet Letter that the hermit had from his  previous life, which were rumored to include years of friendship with Nathaniel Hawrhorne at Bowdoim college. George's father is touched. When he goes at to meet Gilbert the next year, with twine and tobacco, the hermit does not appear. Eventually the woods tell George's father that Gilbert died in the winter, and his body is back in the earth. And on his deathbed, George continues to think, to remember, and to wait for his turn.

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