Last year, I posted an article to this blog detailing why this novel's winning the Pulitzer was such a big deal at the time, so I'm going to post it again now:
Of all 85 novels on our list, I've been looking forward to reading this book most of all for the past year—a full 365 days. It was worth the wait.Tinkers, a debut novel by Paul Harding, a former drummer for the rock group Cold Water Flat, was the surprise winner Monday of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
A lyrical, 191-page account of a man's dying days and his relationship with his father, Tinkers got great reviews but is published by Bellevue Literary Press, a small, 3-year-old, non-profit publisher affiliated with New York University's School of Medicine.
Editorial director Erika Goldman says Tinkers has sold 15,000 copies since its publication in January 2009. That's a hit for a small press but nothing by commercial standards. Bellevue plans to reprint more copies but hasn't decided how many.
The last time a small publisher won the fiction Pulitzer was in 1981, for John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces, released by Louisiana University Press.
Harding, 42, says he's "stunned. It was a little book from a little publisher that was hand-sold from start to finish." The Pulitzer's "imprimatur," he says, adds "a sense of freedom. I can afford to continue doing what I love to do."
There have been very few books along this journey that were written so exquisitely that they took my breath away. There have been some, though; Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson, All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren, Now In November, by Josephine Johnson, and Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, come to mind. And, now, I can very confidently add Paul Harding's Tinkers to this list.
Harding's writing, on several occasions, is so sweepingly grand and majestic—in one paragraph, the reader sails on its wings, up, up, up above the clouds, through the cosmos, and follows the tails of comets before crashlanding back on Earth at the onset of the next paragraph. The words he strings togethers, the phrases he conjures up, the story he tells, are so dizzying and euphoric that as a reader, you can't help but be in awe of their affect upon you. At least a few times, I was sitting on the couch with Ashley and I'd read a section that was so other-worldly that I let out a great sigh and exclaimed, "What was that!?" Then I'd read the section again, again, again, sometimes out loud to her and revel in its beauty. The sections where Harding compares the inner workings of clocks to the inner workings of the entire universe, another labeled "Cometa Borealis," and the final couple paragraphs when George's father comes to his house immediately come to mind.
There was something ironic about his writing, though—it inspired me to write. Typically, when I come across amazing writing, I think to myself "You know... I don't even like writing that much. I think I'll just give it up—I'll let Robert Penn Warren say it all." The same goes for whenever I hear great songwriting: "Glen Hansard seems to have it covered... I'll let him write the songs." Tinkers, on the other hand—I don't know quite how to describe it. For as epic, and grandiose, and important as Harding's writing was, there was something accessible about it. It wasn't so soaring that I couldn't reach up and grab onto its tail as it flew overhead. This was the first novel I've read since Gilead, a couple years ago, that really inspired me.