George Crosby remembered many things as he died, but in an order he could not control. To look at his life, to take the stock he always imagined a man would at his end, was to witness a shifting mass, the tiles of a mosaic spinning, swirling, reportraying, always in recognizable swaths of colors, familiar elements, molecular units, intimate currents, but also independent now of his will, showing him a different self every time he tried to make an assessment.
The latest selection for my book club (go DAFFODILS!) was Paul Harding's debut novel (and recent Pulitzer Prize winner) Tinkers (2009). The action of this book is the memories and thoughts of clock-repairer George Crosby as he lies, an old man, on his death bed and thinks back on his childhood in Maine and his epileptic father, Howard. The narrative is loose and the plot dreamlike, with point of view bouncing between George, Howard, and others, sometimes in the third person, and sometimes in the first. The language is often poetic with multiple clauses strung together, the punctuation mimicking the jumbled thoughts of a dying man. This book is literary, but not overly so, and its short length, beautiful language, and well-developed characters (who really come to life, even within the non-linear plot) should keep most readers engaged. Me: I loved it.
As might be expected, this poetic and not-action-packed slim novel was not gulped up by the big publishing houses when they saw it, and ended up being published by a small independent press. The story of how the book was written, published, found its audience and eventually won the Pulitzer is a great one, and should be required reading for all "unmarketable" artists.
And now, because the language in the book is too lovely to leave on the page, and because this is my blog and I can do what I want, please indulge me in another quotation:
He thought, buy the pendant, sneak it into your hand from the folds of your dress and let the low light of the fire lap at it late at night as you wait for the roof to give out or your will to snap and the ice to be too thick to chop through with the ax as you stand in your husband's boots on the frozen lake at midnight, the dry hack of the blade on ice so tiny under the wheeling and frozen stars, the soundproof lid of heaven, that your husband would never stir from his sleep in the cabin across the ice, would never hear and come running, half-frozen, in only his union suit, to save you from chopping a hole in the ice and sliding into it as if it were a blue vein, sliding down into the black, silty bottom of the lake, where you would see nothing, would perhaps feel only the stir of some somnolent fish in the murk as the plunge of you in your wool dress and the big boots disturbed it from its sluggish winter dreams of ancient seas. Maybe you would not even feel that, as you struggled in clothes that felt like cooling tar, and as you slowed calmed, even, and opened your eyes and looked for a pulse of silver, an imbrication of scales, and as you closed your eyes again and felt their lids turn to slippery, ichthyic skin, the blood behind them suddenly cold, and as you found yourself not caring, wanting, finally, to rest, finally wanting nothing more than the sudden, new, simple hum threading between your eyes. The ice is far too thick to chop through. You will never do it. You could never do it. So buy the gold, warm it with your skin, slip it onto your lap when you are sitting by the fire and all you will otherwise have to look at is your splintery husband gumming chew or the craquelure of your own chapped hands.
"An imbrication of scales" = awesome.