It seems a fairly uncontroversial claim to make that, during the nigh-interminable four weeks between the announcement of this year's Pulitzer Prize winners and last week's second edition of the recipient of its award for Fiction, Tinkers was the most widely sought-after new book in the United States. Bookstores across New York were flooded by back orders for the first edition, which had mostly sold out before the Pulitzers were even announced; seventy holds had been placed on the novel in the Brooklyn Public Library, meaning that it would take me a little over four years to ever get hold of a library copy of it. There was also, with the excitement over such a small book by such a small publisher receiving such a grand prize, a deep puzzlement. The Pulitzers, like any major award, is largely defined by its relationship with the heavy-hitters in its respective fields: no matter how good any work may be, the thinking seems to go, a work must still be buffered by the prominence of its publisher in order to receive such a major notice. Why, then, and how, did the Pulitzer judges even notice this tiny little thing? The Pulitzers for Letters, Drama, and Music are typically an award about which those who work within the fields of its recipient categories love to grouse, comfortable in the knowledge that the philistines on its juries are merely incapable of making better informed, more artistically adventurous decisions; its juries, the thought goes, appeal to populist sentiments, and this is why so much smaller work goes unnoticed. When something that few have even heard of, like Tinkers, wins, it causes many to become uneasy.
Last week, the second edition was released, and I was one of a great many to pick up a copy. I have begun reading it, but haven't made it terribly far yet, certainly not far enough yet to form any concrete opinion of it. The prose is often wonderful, but occasionally it reads quite awkwardly; the dialogue meanders with clichés of how elderly people and their distracted grandchildren speak; and the whole thing seems lugubriously burdened by the pall of the death of its protagonist, George Washington Crosby, with the number of days before his death mentioned upon each new introduction to him. The intention, I imagine, is to give his remaining life added thrust, to add heft and urgency to the thoughts of a man whose proximity to death is so consistently referred to; instead, it obscures any of his ostensible sentience, it makes him doubly dead – in his proximity to death and in his existence so deeply cast in the shadow of his oncoming death. Paul Harding, the author of Tinkers, must then try all the more to bring this character to life: he must make Crosby live in spite of, or even in indifference to, his death, not because of it. Harding seems to take it for granted that his death makes any meaningfulness within his life all the more desirable; he doesn't pay much heed to enlivening Crosby beyond whatever the reader, in the urgent desire to lend this man life before he loses it, brings to him.
I am eager to have my opinion considerably changed the more I read it, and I would love to hear what others who have read the novel think of it.