Elderly New Englander on his deathbed finds his thoughts drifting back to the father who abandoned the family when he was 12.
His organs failing and his mind wandering, retired antique-clock repairman George Washington Crosby prepares to leave this world surrounded by loving family in the house he built himself. In a parallel narrative, his father Howard, a traveling peddler, sells cleaning supplies and sundries to dirt-poor farm wives in 1920s Massachusetts. Barely eking out enough to support his increasingly bitter wife Kathleen and four children, Howard has the heart of a poet and prefers nature walks to selling soap. His quiet desperation is complicated by regular epileptic seizures that leave him bloody and dazed, sometimes miles from home. A violent fit in his home results in him badly biting young George, prompting Kathleen to take steps to send her husband to a state-run mental hospital. He flees, leaving George to grow up into a meticulous, practical man who stashes cash in safety-deposit boxes, most likely as a reaction to his own penniless youth. Debut author Harding (Creative Writing/Harvard Univ.) employs diary entries, stream-of-consciousness musings and excerpts from clock-repair manuals to tell both men’s stories. Short on dialogue and filled with lovely Whitmanesque descriptions of the natural world, this slim novel gives shape to the extraordinary variety in the thoughts of otherwise ordinary men.
An evocative meditation on the nonlinear nature of a life.