The Pulitzer Prize in fiction has been awarded, if that is the right word, to Paul Harding’s Tinkers (“a powerful celebration of life,” intones the prize citation, “in which a New England father and son, through suffering and joy, transcend their imprisoning lives and offer new ways of perceiving the world and mortality”). Harding was trained, you will not be surprised to learn, in the deathless art of creative writing at the University of Iowa.
The novel, which was not even mentioned as a possible winner, consists largely of meandering “meditations” like this one, in the voice of a man lying on his deathbed (quoted from Michele Filgate’s review at the Quarterly Conversation):
Update: I have been asked whether I have read Tinkers. The short answer is that Harding’s novel frustrated my efforts to read it. The prose never gets out of first gear. The device of alternating between narrators does not make up for the lack of a plot. Each section of the novel is a monologue, and exhibits the rambling structure of a monologue. Nor is the defense of the method convincing. Harding seeks to imitate the movement of memory, but as Yvor Winters pointed out many years ago, a writer cannot explore a mental state by being sucked into it, because understanding requires separation: to think otherwise is to fall into what Winters called the fallacy of imitative form.
After a page or two of Harding’s prose, my mind would respond to its summons and wander off on its own accord. And when I set the novel aside, I experienced a strong inner check against picking it up again. I finally gave up, and abandoned it about halfway through.
Update, II: Another good question: If not Tinkers, then what novel ought to have won the Pulitzer Prize? Last year was not, it’s true, a good year for fiction in America. But one novel stood out.