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The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

twelve-livesThis is a book I ended up feeling torn about.  The writing is beautiful and I was deeply engaged in the story.  If you like a good anti-hero story, this is one you should read.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is structured around the stories behind Hawley’s twelve bullet wounds.  We begin the story when Hawley moves to a small town in Washington with his twelve-year-old daughter Loo.  Hawley and Loo have moved around for years, and this is the first time they’ve settled anywhere.  It’s also the town where Loo’s grandmother lives, and where Loo’s mother, who died when Loo was a baby, grew up.

The story takes us through Hawley’s past, from his early criminal history to meeting his wife, to having Loo.  It’s a powerful story, and you’ll feel like you come to know Hawley and Loo, especially Loo.  In many ways this is a coming of age story.  Loo can only become an adult once she understands her past and her father’s.  But I struggled with the level of violence throughout this novel.  It wasn’t Hawley’s criminal past I minded – we all take wrong turns in life, and for a lot of people, one wrong turn leads to a lot more of them.

The problem is that Hawley himself, even though sympathetic as a devoted father and a still-mourning widow, has a serious violent streak and does some horrible things.  Things he doesn’t need to do, like nearly killing a teenager who tries to steal his car (although he does drive him to the hospital afterward), and later causing serious injury to a boy Loo is intimate with.  Not all of Hawley’s problems are because the world is lined up against him; he makes terrible choices over and over again.

What’s disturbing is how Hawley’s violence affects Loo.  She’s a good person, but when some kids bully her at school, she breaks two kids’ noses and another one’s finger, in a creepily deliberate way.  Almost as if she’s taking pleasure in it.  I was never quite sure how to feel about these two characters, because I liked them so much and then they’d do something really disturbing.

This is also a book that’s really focused on guns.  From the very beginning, Loo can name all the different guns they have in the house, and Hawley trains her to use them.  Guns are sort of a security blanket for both of them.  But I have very negative feelings about guns and to read a book this focused on them (with the whole plot structured around them) was a little unsettling given all the horrible gun violence in real life.

So this book left me with a lot of mixed feelings, and maybe it’s supposed to.  I deeply cared about Hawley and Loo, and there are parts of this book that are devastating.  But at the same time, the things Hawley does (and sometimes Loo) are nearly unforgiveable.  Hawley is a devoted father and husband but at times a really horrible one. Somehow Tinti shows us the beauty behind all the violence.

Note: I received a complimentary advance review copy from Hooray for Books! and publisher Tinder Press.  This book publishes March 28, 2017.

4 thoughts on “The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

  1. I just finished this late last week and I agree the writing was amazing, probably some of the best I’ve read in awhile. For me, I really connected with both characters and felt Hawley was such a flawed character that I liked him but then had issues like you with a lot of what he did. In the end, It seemed to me that was part or all of the author’s intentions. Great review!!

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