While the Booker committee has made a habit of laying eggs of late, the Pulitzer has selected an impressive collection of literary gems. Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Edward Jones' The Known World, Junot Diaz's Oscar Wao and, now, Paul Harding's Tinkers represent what great literature is all about.
I was only 20 pages into this book when I felt the overwhelming presence of Marilynne Robinson. Lo and behold, upon reading a Wikipedia entry on the author I found that he studied with Robinson at the Iowa Writers Workshop. The similarities with Gilead are strong, but not obtrusively so. I would categorize Tinkers as a more experimentally daring Gilead, or perhaps a more transcendental Gilead. The narrative is more disjointed in keeping with the protagonist's hallucinatory final illness, so the experimental nature is not gratuitous. And while Gilead was chock full of good ol' conventional Sunday religion, Tinkers tends to be more mystical and perhaps a bit more melancholy.
So who should read this excellent novel? Here you will find no explosions, no cosmic battles, no schools of magic, nobody scurrying about to solve cryptic ciphers. The cast of characters is small but deep; there's no major whodunit here. This is a family saga as told through the final, disjointed memories of a family patriarch in Maine. Like Gilead, the novel consists of the reminiscences of an old man nearing the end of his life. The narrative is not linear; it changes tense, perspective and tone with few signposts for the reader. But if you like a literary challenge, if you like the previous Pulitzer winners and if you enjoy poetic use of the English language along the lines of Marilynne Robinson, you will enjoy this novel. It's a major achievement.