Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

Tinti's The Good Thief was among my favorites of 2008 (we was kids back then, weren't we?) so I have waited years for another novel. I have been patient because she has been busy at the helm of the fantastic One Story, a subscription service celebrating the short story. As a fan and proponent of the short story form, I have been an ardent supporter and subscriber for many years (It makes a swell gift, too! And such a deal! One Story website). Her latest is a worthy successor. 

The twelve lives in the title are actually the specific details surrounding the twelve times Sam Hawley was shot over his lifetime. In short, Hawley is an accomplished crook for hire despite the number of bullets in his hide. His young life is spent pulling jobs and living quietly and nomadically off his fees. This life is changed dramatically when he meets Lily at the funeral of her father, himself a career criminal. It is with her that he can lose himself and with whom he has Loo, his beloved daughter. 

Sam lives a life laced with longing and loneliness. That longing manifests itself in a shrine to Lily in every bathroom where they live. Lonely in that he must always keep a low profile since reprisal could happen at almost any time. Because they often need to pull up stakes at a moments notice, there are many bathrooms. As a result, Loo's life is heavy with these feelings without knowing why.  The books' first sentence, "When Loo was twelve years old, her father taught her how to shoot a gun" certainly sets up the rest of the story. 

As ever, Tinti manages to capture the very essence of her characters. As we came to adore Ren and Dolly in The Good Thief, we love Lily and how she makes it possible for Sam to love. As a result, we can only begin to understand his endless grief. 

As for Loo, she is one of those very rare birds that literature allows us to glimpse in the wild. Tinti writes gorgeously of her young life and how her normal adolescent struggles are even more trying living under the lingering cloud that is her mother's memory and the many crimes of her father. 

Though very different from her first novel, it has been well worth the wait to read Tinti again. She is a brilliant storyteller who deserves a much bigger audience. 

If you'd like another take on this book, see what this smart fellow has to say: 
Ron Charles review