Paul Harding won the Pulitzer Prize with his first novel, Tinkers, and his follow-up, Enon, takes up the story of Charlie Crosby, grandson of George Crosby, the protagonist of Tinkers. George is long dead but remains a decisive power in his grandson’s life. Charlie still lives in the village of Enon the historic Massachussetts town which was the setting for Tinkers. Here, the past wraps itself around the landscape like the contour lines on the ancient maps.
He lives in a slightly ramshackle house with his wife Susan “who had a benign aloofness that made her irresistible” and 13-year-old daughter who encourages him in his fascination in the minutae of the town’s past, particularly that of his grandfather. It was Kate who “bound us back together. Or, really, we were separately bound to Kate and thereby to each other through our single, cherished daughter, and that was fine by us. After all, we did have a sort of real love for one another, or I did for Susan and she had a deep affection for me.”
Then Kate is killed while riding her bike. The marriage is almost immediately irretrievably fractured. Susan is absorbed back into her family in Minnesota. Charlie retreats into hallucination, history and memories powered by drink and drugs: “I woke up every morning on the couch. It felt like the same morning all the time, or like an infinite series of nested dreams from which every day I imagined I awoke but only ever really arose into another dream. When my mood was not pitch-black I thought it would be interesting to come up with a Homeric formula for waking up on the couch, an invocation that would ennoble the act, make it more like poetry, less like a monotonous personal apocalypse.”
His battle is not for survival but for memory. For what was. He fades into the spirit of Enon, an almost ghost-like presence that haunts the town only surviving by capturing the perfection of his life in the past with Kate and with his grandfather. He can see and feel, and even occasionally be amused by, his descent but ignores it as almost an irrelevance.
Enon is an agonizing, visceral account of the physical and emotional impact of tragedy and enduring loss. Harding’s prose is lyrical, luxurious and occasionally surreal. In the end there is no sudden salvation. The agony just gets bearable. Charlie gradually becomes a “connoisseur of the day. Sometimes I set in tears. Sometimes I sit in a wordless, inexplicable kind of brokenhearted joy.
Harding is apparently working on a third book that will finish the trilogy.