Enon: A year of grief and madness

Cover imagePaul Harding’s second novel is set in the same small Massachusetts town as his first as those who’ve read Tinkers will recognise from its title. It begins with the death of Charlie Crosby’s 14-year-old daughter in a road accident and ends a year later. Shortly after Kate’s death, Charlie’s wife Susan leaves to visit her family never to return. It’s a fragile marriage which doesn’t so much break up as dissolve slowly as Charlie sinks into an all-consuming grief, ignoring Susan’s messages, medicating the anguish of his loss and the physical pain of the hand he broke punching the wall in rage with drink and painkillers. Unable to sleep, Charlie spends his nights walking around Enon, eavesdropping on a couple of young girls just a few years older than Kate as they play out their safe rebellions, and yearning for echoes of his beloved daughter. Charlie has lived in Enon for so long that everywhere he turns is freighted with memories, vividly conjured by Harding: the dignified Mrs Hale telling Charlie and his friends that they sled like girls before showing them how it’s done, feeding birds as a child and marvelling at their landing on his empty hand, visits made with his grandfather, Cover imageGeorge, to townspeople needing their clocks mended. As Charlie declines into addiction edging closer to madness, his memories of Kate merge with increasingly baroque hallucinations. It’s a powerful novel of grief and the particularly dreadful agony of losing a child although it seemed a little odd that in such a small town no one stretches out a hand to Charlie until the very end. I should confess that despite the rapturous reviews and its Pulitzer Award – or maybe because them – I gave up Tinkers. Perhaps all that approbation had ramped up my anticipation too far but I think I’ll go back to it now. I’ve seen Enon described as a sequel but, for me, it stood alone in its own right. Having written so eloquently about loss and death in both his first and second novels I wonder what Harding will do next.

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