Hannah Tinti has long been a writer’s writer.
As co-founder and executive editor of the literary magazine One Story, author of the award-winning novel “The Good Thief” and literary commentator for the Public Radio International show “Selected Shorts,” her name is familiar to discerning fans of literary fiction. Her second novel, “The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley,” is an impeccably crafted novel that will thrill new readers and those who have followed Tinti’s work over the years.
“When Loo was twelve years old her father taught her how to shoot a gun,” begins this singular father-daughter story. “Loo” is Louise, whose mother died when she was a baby, and Samuel Hawley is her father, who keeps them moving from place to place for most of her life. She doesn’t remember a time when they weren’t packing up quickly and leaving for the next stop on an itinerary that seems to make no sense.
But as Loo hits her teen years, Hawley brings her to the town where her mother was born and raised, and sets down roots, for better or worse. Olympus is a fishing village on the coast of Massachusetts, complete with town characters and generations of infighting. While some authors lead characters down a path to unfortunate caricatures, Tinti’s light touch keeps them memorable without overplaying their roles. After a bumpy and somewhat violent start, Loo and Hawley settle into life there.
Here, Loo meets her grandmother for the first time (or so we think) and starts to peel back the layers of mystery that surround her mother’s life and death. Tinti alternates chapters of Loo and Hawley’s life together with Hawley’s criminal past, telling the story of each and every scar on his body that marks a spot where he had been shot. As Loo gets older and starts to question why there are so many guns in the house, why there are jars of money hidden in the toilet, and why she and her father were on the run for so many years, Hawley reveals enough to keep her trust, although Loo knows it’s not the whole story.
There are so many concurrent story lines in “The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley” that to reveal too many details here would risk stealing the reader’s pure enjoyment of such an adventurous and transformative tale. I will warn you to set aside a weekend for this captivating novel, because once you start it you won’t want to put it down until you reach the last page. And even then, you’ll want to start again from the very beginning.
Meganne Fabrega is a book critic and freelance writer. She lives in New Hampshire, but has deep Minnesota roots.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
By: Hannah Tinti.
Publisher: The Dial Press, 372 pages, $27.