Tinkers (Bellevue Literary Press, $14.95), by Paul Harding, tells the story of George Washington Crosby, an old man on his deathbed, observing the present, remembering the past, and reconstructing in his imagination the life of his father who left his family when Crosby was a boy. Howard Crosby had been a tinker, traveling over the Maine countryside, selling odds and ends and fixing household items. An enthusiastic naturalist, he fashioned art out of flowers and grass and reveled in the changes of the natural world. He was also epileptic, which made him an oddball in his small community. Winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Tinkers is lyrical, image-rich, and strikingly original.
When Matt’s wife, expecting their first child, asks him to find the cradle she used as a baby, he’s not sure how to respond. Taken by her mother when she abandoned her family, it could be anywhere. But Matt gamely sets out. His search takes him around the Midwest, and Patrick Somerville’s novel develops in the classical quest-tale tradition, with Matt encountering odd characters who help him after he fulfills the tasks they set. Finding The Cradle (Back Bay Books, $13.99), however, is only the first step. Matt, given away by his biological mother and growing up in a series of foster homes, isn’t looking for a symbol of family, but for the real thing. This warm, affecting novel explores the many ways connections can be strained, repressed, twisted, misunderstood---yet still not be entirely broken.
Not since the Litvinoffs of Zoë Heller’s The Believers has a family so charmed me with its unforgiving humanity as have the Foxmans in Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You (Plume, $15). When straight-man Judd is suddenly called back to his childhood home to sit shiva following both the dissolution of his marriage and his father’s death, an almost farcical tale of grief and forgiveness ensues. Tropper writes with vivid honesty about jealousy of an older sibling, alienation from a younger one, and embarrassment by a parent. This Is Where I Leave You has something for anyone who’s ever struggled for solace. Equal parts biting wit and deep compassion, Tropper’s style achieves poignancy without being cheesy, and promises a heartening ending.