I had never heard of this book before I requested it from First to Read last month. But a couple people whose book opinions I respect had added it as “TBR” on Goodreads, so I decided to give it a chance. (This might be the shortest intro I have ever written on here, haha.)
Tin Man is about Ellis – a “nothing special” sort of working class man living in Oxford. As a young boy, he meets and becomes very close friends with Michael. It starts as a regular friendship, but over time and after living through loss and grief and fear together, something more develops between them. A sort of first love and a sexual exploration. But something happens, something that is not altogether fully explainable, but is also not surprising given the world at the time (the 1960s-1990s) and a decision is made that whatever they have will not go further. And then Ellis meets Annie, they get married, and Michael disappears.
When we first meet Ellis, it’s the present day and he is clearly very alone. He’s lost, likely depressed, going through the motions, and has no one, really, in his life. But through his memories, we see what he had with Michael and Annie, his first and last loves (if you will). And as the story develops, we also see that those two loves shared something as well…so we are left with the question: what happened?
This is a relatively short book, but there is a lot of feeling in it despite the length. It’s a really sad and sweet story about the forms that love can take, the way relationships can grow and become important and intertwined even, and especially, in non-traditional ways. As we learn more about Ellis and Michael and Annie, how much they each meant to each other and what happened to each during their years spent apart, you cannot help but become emotionally invested in their connections to each other. I found myself truly caring for these characters and their particular brand of non-traditional, intertwined, love. However, there was something about the story that kept me at a distance from them too. I am not completely sure how to explain it, but something about the way it was written (see below for more on that) kept this strong and sweeping story at arm’s length – almost like it was a dream.
The form of this story is very ephemeral. It’s almost like reading a ghost story, with it’s tone of hushed poetry, reverence, grief and memory. And the strong motifs throughout, of art and soft color and sunflowers, only add to that meditative atmosphere. With the settings of the English country and the romanticized Southern France, mixed with the thematic explorations of the marginalization of men who like things like color and art (and other men), there is a melancholic and wistful feel that seeps into your bones as you read.
In the vein of A Little Life and The Heart’s Invisible Furies, this book explores the grand interconnections of love and loss over a lifetime, with the layered difficulties that are present when they’re shared between LGBT couples (though in a much shorter form than those novels). But this book has its own charm, different from those two powerhouse stories, in its atmospheric intensity. It’s softer, somehow, haunting in a lyrical way that makes it distinct.
Thanks to First to Read and the publisher, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.