The Twelve Lives Of Samuel Hawley, Hannah Tinti, Hardcover, 480pp, March 2017, Dial Press/Penguin Random House
It is appropriate that Hannah Tinti grew up in Salem, Massachusetts, because this novel is a feat of sorcery which cast its spell on me with its compelling emotional clamour, hypnotizing me, binding me to its terribly flawed characters in ways and for reasons I am still trying to parse, and after having finished it in twenty-four hours during which I resented to the point of anger any interruption to my reading, it continues to haunt me.
Here from the Penguin Random House site is a synopsis:
Samuel Hawley isn’t like the other fathers in Olympus, Massachusetts. A loner who spent years living on the run, he raised his beloved daughter, Loo, on the road, moving from motel to motel, always watching his back. Now that Loo’s a teenager, Hawley wants only to give her a normal life. In his late wife’s hometown, he finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at the local high school.
Growing more and more curious about the mother she never knew, Loo begins to investigate. Soon, everywhere she turns, she encounters the mysteries of her parents’ lives before she was born. This hidden past is made all the more real by the twelve scars her father carries on his body. Each scar is from a bullet Hawley took over the course of his criminal career. Each is a memory: of another place on the map, another thrilling close call, another moment of love lost and found. As Loo uncovers a history that’s darker than she could have known, the demons of her father’s past spill over into the present—and together both Hawley and Loo must face a reckoning yet to come.
Truth: I checked it out from the library because Ann Patchett blurbed it and she is one of the blurbers whose blurbing integrity I trust. She did not mislead me on this one when she said, “Hannah Tinti proves herself to be an old-fashioned storyteller of the highest order.”
And what a story. But equally riveting as are the tales of each of Hawley’s scars, is the artistry in the way Hannah Tinti shapes the story. She connects the past and the present with precision of language and detail and stunning command of metaphor.
Every section is beautiful, and each builds on those preceding, soaring to new heights, in the same messy and terrifying way life happens. Hanah Tinti’s greatest feat — for this reader — is the way she makes vital and urgent recklessness and chaos of these characters’ lives while using such accomplished literary technique; and, making literary fiction as pressingly turn-the-page exciting as a potboiler.
The Bullet #5 chapter is heartbreaking and stunning. By the time it’s over your heart will have been four times broken for four different characters; two younger ones confronted with the doomed doppelgängers of their potential future selves. To read the line, “She said to stop stealing cars, and doing other bad stuff. Otherwise I’d end up like you.” and feel its weight, its surprise, its perfection, its heft of emotion and hard, hard, nearly impossibly and unbelievably hard truth is to know you are in the hands of a great writer.
There are many varieties of love — father/daughter, spouse/spouse, mother/daughter, teen first crush to teen first crush, love of danger, love of nature, love of friends, love of holding on to hate — explored and limned with careful and meticulous particularity in prose that holds one hostage, gun to the head, forcing you to keep reading, keep reading, keep reading.
Fantastic, five-star novel. I’m no Ann Patchett (or Richard Russo, Meg Wolitzer, and Ruth Ozeki, all of whom blurbed it as well) but you can trust me not to lead you wrong on this; READ IT NOW!