“An old man lies dying. Confined to bed in his living room, he sees the walls around him begin to collapse, the windows come loose from their sashes, and the ceiling plaster fall off in great chunks, showering him with a lifetime of debris: newspaper clippings, old photographs, wool jackets, rusty tools, and the mangled brass works of antique clocks. Soon, the clouds from the sky above plummet down on top of him, followed by the stars, till the black night covers him like a shroud. He is hallucinating, in death throes from cancer and kidney failure.
A methodical repairer of clocks, he is now finally released from the usual constraints of time and memory to rejoin his father, an epileptic, itinerant peddler, whom he had lost seven decades before.”
The above is what a reviewer said about a wonderful, Pulitzer Prize-winning book I just read, Tinkers by Paul Harding. While so many of the books I read disappear from my memory like smoke minutes after I have read them, this one stays with me and I wrestle with its resonance with my life.
Time in the novel is elastic, just as it feels to me. I have vivid dreams that feel very real to me, and while the theme of anxiety remains the same, it manifests in a range of times and locations with people alive and dead. Sometimes I am a student at Country Day, a classmate of my former students, sometimes a teacher in Juvie who can’t get the kids to cooperate. My parents, long dead, make frequent unpleasant appearances. And when I wake up, I carry the feelings of the dreams and sometimes have trouble later telling dream from reality as I reflect.
In Tinkers, the main character and his father, long separated and very different, conflate, and it becomes clear that their identities are not so different after all. Similarly, while I have spent a lifetime trying so hard to be as different as possible from my parents, I find them popping up in my behavior more often than I wish. My father broke all the rules. Rules were for suckers in his book. I, too, enjoy ignoring rules (which got me in trouble at both CD and juvie, and ultimately caused me to be suspended from juvie.) I park in every No Parking spot I see and make my own decisions about what traffic laws I will obey. Not proud! Just sayin’.
And my mother was a sad woman, dissatisfied with her lot in life. She loved Things and talked about how she wished she could acquire more. And here I am with so much stuff that I had to open a shop to accommodate the overflow. My favorite activity when I am bored at the shop is to go online and order things. It’s as if I am living my mother’s life for her in a way she would have wished. Many years ago my then husband’s grandmother gave me a mink coat. I had no wish for such a thing, but it was something my mother pined after, so I accepted it and wore it feeling like a clown.
I worry about which of my traits and attitudes my children have absorbed. Some of them must be good, I hope! Abby says she remembers how when the kids were growing up, we would host frequent dinners where people were invited because they were interesting. Now she counts as her friends a wide assortment of interesting people who come to visit her often. I’m happy about that!