Enon by Paul Harding
(Random House, 2013, 256 pages)
Enon is Paul Harding’s second novel, and while it is not a sequel to Tinkers, it does continue a family history that started with the Pulitzer Prize winning story of three generations of the Crosby family. Both novels take place in the fictional New England town of Enon and explore the relationships between generations and their ties to the beauty and severity of the New England landscape.
In Enon, we watch the plummeting grief of Charlie Crosby following the death of his thirteen year old daughter Kate. The trauma quickly causes his marriage to dissolve, and he spends the greater part of the book becoming increasingly dependent on prescription pain medications. Charlie roams the town’s graveyard and the surrounding countryside, recalling events from his own childhood and from that of his daughter’s; these reminiscences are interrupted by hallucinatory visions of his daughter and other deceased inhabitants of Enon. The historic town and its changing seasons become characters unto themselves, especially as Charlie becomes more and more isolated.
As a chronicle of a father’s grief, Enon is heartbreaking and poetic. It wrestles with perennial questions of mortality, the afterlife, and whether or not there is something like a beneficent and providential being who oversees the passage from life to death. For all of the severity and despair of its major themes, Enon also has its humorous moments. Charlie’s metaphysical meditations, which Harding so eloquently describes, are contrasted with the colloquial dialogue of various characters that run through Charlie’s memories. As painful as this book is to read, there is hope to be found – even if it is a sometimes elusive and hard-won hope. It is also interesting to note that both of Harding’s novels owe a heavy debt to transcendentalist writers like Emerson and Thoreau, among others. The best compliment I can think to give to both Tinkers and Enon is that, having read them, I feel a certain compulsion to go read the transcendentalists in order to better prepare myself to reread Harding’s books with an even greater appreciation.