Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Tin Man

Title:  Tin Man
Author:  Sarah Winman
Publication Information:  G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2018. 224 pages.
ISBN:  0735218722 / 978-0735218727

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "All Dora Judd ever told anyone about that night three weeks before Christmas was that she won the painting in a raffle"

Favorite Quote:  "And I wonder what the sound of a heart breaking might be. And I think it might be quiet unperceptively so, and not dramatic at all. Like the sound of an exhausted swallow falling gently to earth."

Two young boys meet by circumstance at the age of twelve. They become the best of friends drawn together by loneliness and grief. Choices of one drive them apart. Fast forward several years. One is married, and the other has seemingly disappeared. The rest of the book is a tortured look at that friendship and what it meant. As the book description states, "This is almost a love story. But it's not as simple as that."

To me, it is more than that. It is one man's search for his own identity. He questions it once as a young man, putting his love at risk. He questions it again years later, again risking his love and this time also his marriage.

Michael. Ellis. Annie.  A pair. A trio. A couple. A triangle. At different points in their lives, they are all these things. There is a permeating love in all the variations of these relationships, and there is an overwhelming sense of sadness and melancholy.

The writing style clearly lends itself to that tone. It is more poetic than narrative. Some things it describes in great details; I am not a fan of graphic sexual descriptions. Some things it leaves completely unexplored. For example, the first chapter is about a woman, an abusive marriage, and a painting as a statement of freedom. It intrigues me, and I want to know if the woman will exert her freedom further. Yet, the book is not about the woman, the painting, or that statement. In fact, the book does not go back to that at all.

Similarly, Michael, Ellis, and Annie's story is presented as points on a map. I don't mind things being left to the reader's imagination, but in this case, the gaps are so wide that I don't really get a sense of them as individuals. That is truly surprising since part of the book is narrated as a first person journal. It is even more surprising that some of those descriptions deal with harrowing experiences during the AIDS epidemic. It should be intense and emotional, but for me, it just always seems at a far distance.

The clear dichotomy between the first half and the second half perhaps adds to the that feeling of distance as does the fact that the book focuses more on descriptions, telling not showing the story. Perhaps, that distance is a deliberate choice given the choice of the title; after all, the tin man in The Wizard of Oz thought he had no heart. Of course, the title could simply be a reference to the profession of one of the men, but somehow, I think not. Unfortunately, deliberate or not, it makes for a challenging reading experience.

I understand the angst that is at the heart of this book, but, for me, it needs to be grounded in a story about people who become real. That is what makes me care. This book feels more like reading a conceptual tale about relationships than a story that comes to life.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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