The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

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The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Rebecca Foster
Reviewed by Rebecca Foster
Summary: This father–daughter story is an unusual but winning blend of small-town New England atmosphere and high-octane action scenes. Imagine a John Irving novel getting the Hollywood shoot-'em-up treatment and you'll have some idea of what Tinti does in this unexpectedly dark book full of quirky characters.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 496 Date: April 2017
Publisher: Tinder Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781472234360

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When she turns twelve, Samuel Hawley teaches his daughter, Loo (short for Louise), how to use her grandfather's rifle. Shooting a gun and hotwiring a car prove to be useful skills for this daughter of a fugitive. Hawley is a lawless modern cowboy who's had many close shaves over his years on the run for committing robberies and making dodgy deals. He and his young daughter form a cosy unit of their own; they live off of Chinese food and vending machine snacks in motel rooms and move on every six months or so to avoid the consequences of his criminal activities. But when they get to Olympus, Massachusetts, Hawley decides it's time to settle down. He buys a house by the water – with cash – and becomes a clean-living fisherman.

Olympus is where Loo's mother, Lily, grew up. Hawley approaches Lily's mother, Mabel Ridge, but tough Mabel wants nothing to do with a man she blames for her daughter's death. Lily drowned in a Wisconsin lake when Loo was just a baby, but she still watches over Loo by way of the photographs and scraps of writing that plaster the bathroom walls. And gradually, over the course of years, Mabel warms to her granddaughter. Principal Gunderson and a classmate named Marshall are other important figures in Loo's new life. She has a hard time when she first starts school in Olympus, and adopts her father's tactic of violent revenge against bullies. Alcohol and joyriding threaten to derail her academic career, but Principal Gunderson offers her a second chance working in his family restaurant.

I found Loo's everyday life a bit dull in comparison with the more exciting revelations about Hawley's past. The twelve bullet scars in his body are a reminder that a life of crime always catches up with you. We first spot the scars when he competes in a local Greasy Pole Contest, taking off his shirt and rolling up his trouser legs. Thereafter, alternating chapters delve into the past to remember how he garnered each of those bullets. For example, 'Bullet Number Three' came when he and long-time criminal partner Thomas Jove were in the Pacific Northwest, and Number Four hit him just after he met Lily: he was doing a drop in a diner when she stopped by after her father's funeral for a strawberry milkshake. They escaped in a hijacked snowplow.

In her praise for the book, Ann Patchett calls it 'One part Quentin Tarantino' – an apt mention given the gore and expletives. Imagine a John Irving novel getting the Hollywood shoot-'em-up treatment and you'll have some idea of what Tinti does in her unexpectedly dark narrative full of quirky characters (Mabel was my favourite). It's just a shame that the U.K. publishers did not change the female protagonist's name to 'Lou'; even that simple one-letter change would make a big difference, I think, to her story being taken more seriously.

All the same, this is an unusual but winning blend of small-town New England atmosphere and memorable action scenes. I was so invested in the story that it even penetrated into my dream life: Hawley hides his rolls of paper money in liquorice cans in the toilet tank; one night during the time I was reading the book I dreamed that I lied to my parents, denying I'd played a part in a robbery, then went off to check on my wads of cash. (Psychoanalyze that!)

I'd recommend this to readers who don't normally read crime thrillers but like a touch of suspense in their literary fiction.

Further reading suggestion: The Drop-off by Patrick Quinlan, Tinti's The Good Thief and The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir by Cylin Busby and John Busby.

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Buy The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti at Amazon.com.

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