Brave beginning

Tinkers has received an amazing critical and popular reception in the literary world, all of it richly deserved, I think. The novel ascended easily into my top ten list. (How wonderful that these lists of ours keep expanding over the years. Just when I think there couldn’t be a novel I love as much as the ones I’ve already read, something brand new comes along, like Tinkers …or I discover a story that’s been around for a long time, like Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge Over San Luis Rey, for instance.)

There are many, many ways in which Tinkers succeeds as a novel. The writing is beautiful and highly imaginative; among my favorite scenes is the one on pages 144-145, when Howard stands in Tagg Pond for the night, a scene so moving I could scarcely bear to read it, in fact. Here’s just one gorgeous sentence from those passages: “What if it is clear and the sky brimming so full of stars that the light overflows down onto the earth and transforms into luminescent white flowers along the bank, which sparkle and disperse without a trace the moment the planet passes the deepest meridian of night and begins turning back toward the sun?”

The story is utterly compelling emotionally, and the ending has the astonishing, magical, mysterious quality of all good endings, in that it feels both surprising and inevitable. How could one read these last pages without weeping, really? And the novel ends, of course, with the definitive last word among last words: “Good-bye.”

And the novel’s structure — its movement back and forth in time and the developing and dynamic tension between the past and the present — is both beautifully complex and yet also beautifully simple. To begin a novel with the certainty of the protagonist’s death is a brilliant and risky feat. Readers amazed at this bravura beginning would be interested in the opening of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. (“On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on. He’d dreamed he was going through a grove of timber trees where a gentle drizzle was falling, and for an instant he was happy in his dream.”)

I hope you guys have loved this novel. I’m giving copies to friends far and wide.

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