"In the front bedroom, propped up among the books, is a color photograph of three people, a woman and two men. They are tightly framed, their arms around one another, and the world beyond is out of focus, and the world on either side excluded." Like their photo, the lives of Ellis, Michael and Annie are complete with each other; they could exclude the rest of the world. Sarah Winman's Tin Man is both devastatingly tragic and sensuously gorgeous, as it follows the three in Oxford, England, from the 1950s through 1996.
Love thrives in all its glory and sorrow, first as a friendship between the boys Ellis and Michael, shifting into and out of a sexual relationship, then the marriage of Ellis and Annie and the mutual love among the three. For a time, Michael leaves; they all mourn their loss. "Life was not life without him" for the couple. Told as a non-linear narrative, their story's end is revealed at the beginning of Tin Man, and discovering the layers of their experiences from separate perspectives and time periods deepens the poignancy.
Other characters are richly drawn: Ellis's mum, who is entranced with Van Gogh's sunflowers and "believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things"; Mabel, Michael's openhearted grandmother; and friends and strangers who offer kindnesses. Winman's very short novel imparts joy. Plan to read it twice: first for the story, then to savor the beauty of the poetic symbolism threaded throughout the sparsely crafted prose. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco