Tin Man: A Book Review

What’s better as a ‘start of the summer book’ than one covered in glimmering sunflowers? I’m a big fan of Impressionist art and Van Gogh is definitely a favorite, so I must confess this may be my favorite book cover of the year, so far. I was fortunate to see some of his work a few years ago as a collection was on tour and it is even more mesmerizing in person. Long heralded for his use of color, you see it vividly come to life in bold brush strokes that shouldn’t mean anything, but together they mean everything.

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The brush strokes are layered, swoop after swoop of color. Sometimes colors you wouldn’t have chosen, but their existence on the canvas is what makes the portrait truly stunning. The novel Tin Man, by Sarah Winman, is “Sunflowers” come to life. This novel is so quietly stunning and perfectly petite, I will be rereading it for years. The humanity Winman was able to capture with such a surprising feeling of simplicity is marvelous.

Like the book jacket says, “This is almost a love story. But it’s not as simple as that.” This is a tale of two twelve-year-old boys who bond through life’s challenges and life’s beauties. Ellis and Michael are fast friends who run amok through Oxford, swimming, cycling, sharing a love of poetry until something shifts and they are more. Fast forward into adulthood and Ellis is married to Annie, a girl who became their third Musketeer, but Michael is gone. What has happened in the years between and after? The answer is where the painting analogy really gets cooking. Winman effortlessly weaves the lives of the boys together by telling their story in stunning vignettes and memories. And as it unfolds you find yourself heartbroken and tenderly hopeful all at once. Like a painting, it is beautiful at first glance, but you know each time you return for another look there will be a deeper richness waiting to be discovered.

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The complex relationships aren’t dramatic or overdrawn, they are so damn true and I have rarely met characters so realistically drawn. I want to hug them, all of them, and thank them for their lives lived within the walls of this beautiful little book, and for allowing me to read them.

If you want to know what it would feel like to read art, this is the book.

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