Sarah Winman's Tin Man is a novel "full of love, loss, and the awe of rebuilding your soul after devastating grief."
After opening to the first page of Sarah Winman’s Tin Man, greeted by a quote from Van Gogh, I was compelled to fly through the pages and see what Winman had in store for me. This beautifully written novel is full of love, loss, and the awe of rebuilding your soul after devastating grief.
We’re introduced early on to four characters who are all tied to the protagonist Ellis Judd in an intricate and intimate manner. Ellis is an artist who is working as an auto mechanic, forced into the trade by his emotionally distant father when he was young. In his youth he meets Michael, who becomes his life-long friend and eventually blooms into more. The present day is 1996 where Ellis, in middle age, tries to fill the days with work while numbing his grief—while we the reader piece together the past through his memories. We are allowed a peek into a beautiful love story between four souls intertwined around one story.
During the 80’s and 90’s, the world was still a cruel place for love outside your given gender, which leads to Ellis’s choices despite what we know to be true in his heart. After having what felt like the beginning of their intimate relationship being torn away from them, Michael ponders the nature of lost love:
How cruel it was that our plans were out there somewhere. Another version of our future, out there somewhere, in perpetual orbit.
This book shows the emotional remnants of being a survivor of a tragedy, and what it means to be human, still wanting to experience the awe of life and to rebuild. Every day is rebuilding, every year is another year missed, songs never heard, air never breathed, another year that brings more distance to the memories we try painstakingly not to forget. This book touches the essence of grief and really homes in on why being alive and developing relationships is the pinnacle—perhaps the purpose—of our existence. Winman creates a lovely orchestration of how lives entangle, souls fall in love, and death plucks the best, leaving you to start a new existence with the loved lost ghosts ever living in your mind.
Even though we meet several lustrous characters, at the heart of this novel Michael and Ellis’ relationship emits that one-of-a-kind, love-of-your-life quality. Winman’s writing transports the reader to different time periods, different minds long lost, and into the present day and inner life of Ellis. Anyone knowing what it feels like to sift through memories after loss, reliving the past with a ghost in your mind while your body stands in a park or in a room a million miles or years away will relate to the moments of grief. Throughout the novel, Michael and Ellis navigate their relationship through marriage, AIDS, and living separate lives—always knowing how their souls are connected. It’s about finding someone who helps you find yourself, a notion Michael gives voice to:
I’d never felt more myself. A moment of authenticity when fate and blueprint collide and everything is not only possible, but within arm’s reach. And I fell in love. Madly, intoxicatingly so. I think he may have, too. Just for a moment. But I never really knew.
Winman has crafted a novel so luscious, it screams out the urgency to live who you are shamelessly. I so appreciated in this book how it showed that love is love, that sexuality is fluid, that you shouldn’t hide from feelings—if you feel, feel.
Ellis loves Michael. He also loves Annie. They all have a different love with Ellis, but it is love. I encourage anyone who has lost someone or anyone who has ever loved with your entire being to pick up this book. I cannot begin to describe the raw beauty of this novel. It shows us how elaborate life can be, and how love takes so many different forms, yet at its core is still just that—love.