Monday, August 16, 2010

Tinkers by Paul Harding

TinkersTinkers by Paul Harding

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Here is Paul Harding speaking, in a New York Times profile, about having his manuscript rejected:
"They (literary agents and editors) would lecture me about the pace of life today," Mr. Harding said last week over lunch at a diner in this college town, where he is now teaching at the workshop. "It was, 'Where are the car chases?'" he said, recalling the gist of the letters. "'Nobody wants to read a slow, contemplative, meditative, quiet book.'"
Question: Do we believe for one instant that literary agents were asking Harding "Where are the car chases?" Is that obviously made up, chest-beating self-aggrandizement or what? It is my opinion that this smug, self-congratulatory attitude tells us something fundamental about the author.

Next. This book has plenty of nice sentences, some nice scenes. What it has none of is a story arc, a sense of characters who grow and learn things and change over time. It has no plot! There is a scene in Tinkers where a character pulls a rotting tooth out of a hermit's mouth. It's spellbinding. And then what happens? Nothing! The relationship is never developed. The book just moves on to the next fragmentary segment without bothering to actually develop anyone's relationship to anyone else.

Here is the thing: Novels ought to be the very best medium for depicting the long-term change of characters over time. The problem is that lately, high-end TV has actually gotten very good at doing long-form storytelling. I am filled with dread at the prospect that, instead of reacting to this, novels will instead retreat into this sort of ponderous Tinkersesque plotless wanking, ceding the cultural ground of quality long-form storytelling to, like, Mad Men. That would be a giant disaster -- not because Mad Men is so terrible, but because THIS, this Tinkers, is just an especially blindered, limited vision of what the novel can be.

P.S. I listened to a bit of this dude's indie rock band and they are hideous, exactly as slow and boring and sexless as you'd expect them to be.

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