Published by Dial Press on March 28th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Goodreads Synopsis: A father protects his daughter from the legacy of his past and the truth about her mother’s death in this thrilling new novel from the prize-winning author of The Good Thief.
After years spent living on the run, Samuel Hawley moves with his teenage daughter, Loo, to Olympus, Massachusetts. There, in his late wife’s hometown, Hawley finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school and grows curious about her mother’s mysterious death. Haunting them both are twelve scars Hawley carries on his body, from twelve bullets in his criminal past; a past that eventually spills over into his daughter’s present, until together they must face a reckoning yet to come. This father-daughter epic weaves back and forth through time and across America, from Alaska to the Adirondacks.
Both a coming-of-age novel and a literary thriller, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley explores what it means to be a hero, and the cost we pay to protect the people we love most.
Do you ever read a book, know that you love it, but yet somehow can’t really put into words why? That’s how I feel about Hannah Tinti’s The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley. What initially drew me to this book was reading the synopsis and realizing that the book focuses on the relationship between a father and daughter. I can’t say that I’ve read nearly enough books that explore that dynamic so I was eager to give this book a shot.
Samuel Hawley and his daughter Loo (short for Louise) have spent most of Loo’s life living what can best be described as a transient lifestyle, moving from place to place and never staying anywhere too long. The only sense of permanence that Loo has experienced all this time is the makeshift shrine that Hawley builds for Loo’s mother in each place. Loo’s mother, Lily, drowned when Loo was just a baby, so it has just been Loo and her dad for as long as she can remember. We are given hints early on that the transient lifestyle Loo and her Dad are living stems from the fact that Hawley has a somewhat checkered past. Although Loo appears perfectly content living the way she and her Dad always have, when the novel opens and we meet Hawley and then 12 year old Loo, Hawley has decided that it’s time for Loo to have a more permanent and stable way of life and thus has settled them back in Lily’s hometown of Olympus, Massachusetts. As they go about their day-to-day lives in this tiny town, we start to get more and more hints that Hawley’s past is indeed a colorful one and that not even Loo, the person who is closest to him in the world, knows all that there is to know about him. The extent of Hawley’s past misadventures becomes very apparent when Hawley is coerced into participating in a town event and is required to remove his shirt to take part. When the shirt comes off, we see that Hawley’s body is riddled with old bullet wound scars. So many scars, in fact, that it seems nearly impossible he is even still alive.
The revealing of so many scars was where things got especially interesting for me because the author then proceeds to use the bullet wound scars as a roadmap to carry us through Hawley’s past. She alternates chapters that are devoted to explaining how he received each bullet wound with chapters of the new life he is trying to start with Loo. What I loved about this way of constructing the story was how we see Hawley first as a dad, doing the best he can, willing to sacrifice anything and everything to give his daughter a normal life. Tinti fully humanizes him before revealing his past where we then see that Hawley has done a lot of awful things in his day. He has stolen things, hurt people, heck he has even killed people. But somehow, because I still see him first as Loo’s dad, I love the character in spite of the many questionable choices he has made in the past. I think if Tinti had revealed the gory details of Hawley’s past first and then tried to move forward and show that he has now reformed himself and become a great dad, Hawley wouldn’t be nearly as endearing as he is.
As much as the story is about Hawley and his past, I would also consider it to be a coming of age story for Loo. She spends much of the story trying to make sense of this new world she is now living in and what her place is in it, and she is particularly determined to learn more about what happened to her mother. Hawley has sought to protect Loo from the full truth of her mother’s death because he knows that it will be even more heartbreaking for her than the truth she has been led to believe all her life. When Loo meets her grandmother (Lily’s mother) for the first time after they settle in Olympus, her grandmother implies that Hawley is in some way responsible for Lily’s death. This makes Loo’s journey to find the truth all the more poignant as Hawley is all she really has in this world. Can she forgive him if he is responsible? Loo’s story becomes especially moving as we cycle back and forth between her chapters set in the present and Hawley’s chapters set in the past. In Hawley’s chapters, we see how he and Lily met and fell in love, and then in present-day chapters, we follow Loo as she slowly unravels the mystery surrounding her mom’s death. Tinti does a beautiful job weaving together the past and present in a heartwrenching journey that ultimately brings Loo to that truth she has been so desperately seeking.
Tinti adds even more complexity to her story by making it a bit of a thriller as well as the ghost of Hawley’s past still lurks and threatens this new life he is trying so hard to make for his daughter. All of these different layers – the past, the present, the love, the suspense — and how they effortlessly fit together is what makes The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley such an engaging read.
I can’t really say that I have any complaints about the novel. At first I’ll admit I was a little wary about the bullet hole chapters, especially since they were actually named BULLET NUMBER ONE, BULLET NUMBER TWO, etc. I thought ‘Oh boy, this is either going to be hokey or it’s going to be brilliant.’ Thankfully, brilliant won out and it worked fabulously.
If you’re looking for a wonderfully intricate read that authentically captures the father-daughter bond, then give The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley a read. I would, however, forewarn that there is a lot of violence as you can probably guess from the few hints I dropped about Hawley’s past. Both love and violence are at the core of this tale.