enonEnon. An abbreviation of a Latin word? A biblical name? Here it is the name of a small town in New England, home of Charlie Crosby. I have not read Tinkers, Paul Harding’s Pulitzer Prize winning first novel, but Charlie is the grandson of the man who is dying in Tinkers.

The writing is exquisite. It moves along at the pace of a stroll down a country lane, always imbued with a sense of the history layered in the surroundings.

First paragraph:

“Most men in my family make widows of their wives and orphans of their children. I am the exception. My only child, Kate, was struck and killed by a car while riding her bicycle home from the beach one afternoon in September, a year ago. She was thirteen. My wife, Susan, and I separated soon afterward.”

I honestly don’t know how any parent survives the death of a child, especially a young child who still lives at home. Charlie barely did and here is his grieving story.

Charlie is a reader, a life long reader. Since he was a young kid, he read mysteries and horror stories and books on history and art and science and music. He liked big fat tomes so he could linger in other worlds and in other people’s lives. Those big books are the sign of a true reader. “What I loved most was how the contents of each batch of books mixed up with one another in my mind to make ideas and images and thoughts I’d never have imagined possible.” Exactly!

When Kate dies, Charlie falls apart, completely and utterly. His wife moves back to live with her parents in Minnesota. He had met her in college. She was a schoolteacher and he became a guy who took care of people’s lawns, just so he could make some money, because he really had no skills or even ambition. His life and all his emotions and energy were invested in Kate. As if he did not have a personality of his own, so lived through her.

Most of the novel is about the unraveling of Charlie. It is gruesome though strangely not without a sort of wry humor. Here and there are some stories about how he met his wife, what their life had been, and about his grandfather George Crosby, a man who repaired clocks. But mostly we go with Charlie as he walks all night long, night after night, in the woods, to the graveyard, around the town. Out of his mind on booze and painkillers and finally hard drugs, he deteriorates before our eyes.

Since Charlie is telling the tale, he must have lived to tell it. Honestly though, I was convinced he was going to die. But he doesn’t and it appears he was saved by a vision he had when he was just on the edge of passing out as he wandered in the night.

“There is a sound that no human ear can hear, coming from a place no human eye can see, from deeper within the earth but also from deep in the sky and the water and inside the trees and inside the rocks. The sound is a voice, coming from a register so low no human can hear it, but many people throughout the town are disturbed from their sleep by it. It is a note from a song the shape of which is too vast ever to know.”

That is Charlie describing what saved him. Or what made him decide to save himself, or at least to go on living. I would not call this novel hopeful or inspiring, at times it was frightfully depressing. What kept me going is that it sounded like truth.

UPDATE: This Other Eden by Paul Harding reviewed here.