When a book is described as being ‘one part Quentin Tarantino, one part Scheherazade, and twelve parts wild innovation’, you know you’re in for a treat. Ann Patchett’s glowing praise for The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley might have been what drew me to this book initially, but what held my attention and kept me gripped throughout was the complex father-daughter tale that Hannah Tinti has weaved; a book that’s simultaneously a noir revenge thriller, a bittersweet love story and a profound karmic fable.
Having spent most of his life on the run, Samuel Hawley is finally ready to put down roots so that his teenage daughter, Loo, can have a normal life. The two settle in Olympus, Massachusetts, the hometown of Hawley’s late wife and Loo’s mother, Lily, where Hawley finds work as a fisherman and Loo struggles to fit in at her new school. Hawley is a loner, whilst Loo is awkward and prone to violent outbursts, which makes people stay away from them, something that suits Hawley’s desire to hide his nomadic, mysterious former life. Yet for Loo, it means she’s a perpetual outsider, unable to make friends her own age.
Haunted by his wife’s death, Hawley is a man with one foot forever stuck in the past and the other hovering in the immediate future, ready and waiting for the moment they have to pack their bags and go on the run again. He carries twelve scars on his body, signifying twelve bullets from his past. As Hawley attempts to shield his daughter from the memories that plague him, whilst also equipping her with the skills she needs to defend herself, we revisit the criminal events that gave Hawley his wounds. Slowly though, as Hawley always knew it would, his violent past bleeds into the present, drawing Loo into a journey of bitter payback.
“And like the moon, Hawley was always circling between Loo and the rest of the universe. Reflecting light at times, but only in slivers.”
From Loo’s perspective, this is a coming-of-age tale about a young girl struggling to find her place in the world, whilst trying to piece together her father’s shady secrets and the mystery surrounding her mother’s death. For Hawley – a man who stumbled into a life of crime and corruption and was never able to pull himself free from it – this is his reckoning, the price he must pay for the wrongs he’s done and to protect the one precious thing he has in the world – his daughter.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is a masterfully written and memorable story exploring how the past always catches up with people. Hawley is an anti-hero of the best kind, a fierce and daring character whose world revolves around keeping his child safe from a past he can never shake off. Through trying to protect Loo though, he also seals her fate, unintentionally ensuring she’ll never have a normal life. With Loo and Hawley the story crosses state borders and travels through memories and mysteries, meditating on life, death and love.
Hannah Tinti is a formidable writer who captures the fragility and temporary nature of our existence perfectly. As a reader, you’re right there with Hawley every time he suffers another bullet, wondering how he’ll be able to get out of yet another scrape with death. Loo’s devotion to her father is unwavering but her frustration and fury is always there bubbling under the surface, building up to an exciting conclusion that belongs in an edge of your seat action movie.
This is a fast-paced and suspenseful novel with a father-daughter duo that quickly burrowed into my heart and remained there long after the story ended. If only there were more characters like Samuel Hawley out there.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is published by Tinder Press on 6 April 2017