FICTION//The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley- Hannah Tinti*


One of the best things about being sent books for review is when you get something you wouldn’t normally read, but then fall in love with it. This book is one of those. It arrived one morning and the cover quote intrigued me- Tarantino and the storyteller of Arabian Nights together? That’s quite an interesting prospect! Also, the cover of the proof is gorgeous- all Van Gogh stars- and, contrary to popular beliefs, sometimes it’s a good thing to judge a book by its cover.

Hawley has lived a hell of a life- and he has the bullet scars to prove it. But now he just wants to live quietly with his daughter Loo in the small town where his wife grew up. For years, it’s just been him and Loo on the run from things that she will never really understand, and so Hawley sees it as his job to protect her from his past. Until one day, that past comes knocking on the door and knocks him off his feet.

The story itself is woven around Hawley’s past- each of his scars is revisited throughout the novel- and Loo’s present, as she learns about growing up in a small American town. The pain of being an outsider is coupled with the strength she gains from her relationship with her father, as well as his struggles to accept the death of his wife, Lily, when Loo was tiny. It’s a big sweep of a novel, both literally (it takes in a huge chunk of the States as its setting, thanks to Hawley’s nomadic existence) and emotionally, as we travel with two people who love each other desperately but due to their nature and the fact that one is a teenager, they can never really talk about things until dramatic events force them to. As a reader, I really felt Loo’s frustration with her life and her father, and the tension she feels about never really living up to his memories of Lily. I felt, too, for Hawley, trying to make a life for his daughter that was free of his dysfunctional past and never quite managing it. In some ways, it’s quite a claustrophobic novel, but this is not a criticism- it means that we can really start to get beneath the skin of the two main characters.

And yes, it IS a combination of Tarantino- there are gunfights and getaways, robberies and murders- and Scheherazade in its intricately woven plot. The past and  the present weave together to create Loo’s future and it’s an exhilarating ride. I can see this as amazing film in the near future (Kiernan Shipka would be a perfect Loo. Not so sure about Hawley, off the top of my head) and the book itself should do great things once it’s released.

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