The photo on your shelf reminds you of a thousand things. You recall the day it was taken—the smell of the air, the background sounds, the food, the drink, the laughter, and the sense that this was forever. You’ve seen that photo many times throughout the years, but it never fails to remind you of the best of times. Or, as in the new book Tin Man by Sarah Winman, it may represent the worst of times.
Ellis Judd rarely thought of reading anymore, though there were books piled around his apartment. They were Annie’s, so he ignored them. And he mostly ignored that framed photograph sitting among them, trying not to think about the people in it.
But, of course, that was impossible; his face was one of the three in the photo. And there was Annie, his wife and the love of his life, five years dead from an automobile accident. And Michael, his best childhood friend.
He’d never forget the day he and Michael met: Ellis was visiting Mabel, an older woman and the local greengrocer, when Michael arrived to stay. Both 12 years old, they’d become on-the-spot friends. Years later, Michael was the reason Ellis met Annie, and she instantly loved him, too. Ellis was glad for it.
But then, not too long after Annie and Ellis were married, Michael seemed to disappear. Annie pestered Ellis on and off about where Michael had gone. Didn’t he wonder? Didn’t he want him back in his life? Didn’t Ellis miss his best friend?
He did—and one day, Michael walked back in, as if nothing had happened. Things seemed to pick up where they left off, and Ellis was content again with his day-to-day—until the car accident, when his entire world died.
It took a while to heal—as if that would ever fully happen—but his losses made distant memories keener, and Ellis began thinking about a painting that his mother and Michael had particularly loved. Having it would mean a lot, so Ellis decided to fetch it from his father’s attic.
That’s when he found a boxful of Michael’s things, including a notebook.
There are a thousand emotions that you’ll feel when you read Tin Man, starting with a melancholy sense of foreboding. Don’t beat yourself up over it, though. Every character here has reason to feel that life is no good.
That alone might make you want to avoid this book—why try something when you know it’s going to depress you, right? Wrong: author Sarah Winman also offers several glimmers of hope in her story—from Ellis’ mother, who finds beauty in a booby-prize painting; to Annie, who happily understands Michael’s needs; and Ellis himself, who learns again what he already knew.
Truth be known, readers will know it, too, long before they get to the pinnacle of this book—but the love-story-not-love-story that pulses to the lingering end is worth the journey, times two. And that makes Tin Man a book you should picture yourself reading.
This article appears in the August 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.