***** Five out of Five Stars
Review by Mark Palm
I don’t think that I am going out on a limb when I state that America is a country that is deeply steeped in a culture that is fixated on guns. It’s not a political or moral statement, but simply a matter of fact. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley: A Novel is a story about many things, but at it’s core it is a work that uses that idea, that particular shared identity to tell a tale of a father and his daughter whose lives are both brought together and at the same time, severed, by the use of guns.
The novel actually starts on Loo’s 12th birthday. The two are living in Massachusetts, and Hawley figures that it is time to teach her to shoot. During the lesson the two talk about Loo’s mother, Lily, who accidentally drowned in a lake in Minnesota when Loo was very young. Although Lily only appears in flashbacks in many ways she is the emotional heart of the story. She means so much to Hawley that wherever they live he creates a makeshift shrine to her in the bathroom, displaying photos along with her clothing and toiletries. This level of dedication is particularly striking because the two mo0ve frequently, and often with little or no notice, because Hawley is a criminal. His arsenal of guns are used as tools. Hawley is a freelance outlaw, working for other criminals and using his physical prowess and his skill with guns to fulfill his assignments. He steals, injures people, and sometimes kills, to stay alive and get the job done, all the time posing as a fisherman or a house-painter, and keeping his vocation a secret from Loo.
After the first chapter the novel tells, in alternating chapters, the story of Loo and Hawley in the present as she grows from an adolescent into a young woman, and the past, as we see how Hawley became a criminal, and how he met and fell in love with Lily, and their life with Loo as a young girl.
The twelve lives referenced in the novel’s title refer to the twelve separate times that Hawley has been shot, and although I hate symbolism, I think they also serve for a metaphor for the pain that Hawley has both suffered and caused; in losing his wife and in endangering the life of his daughter by the choices he has made. That may make this book sound like it’s a ponderous heavy read but nothing could be further from the truth.
Ms. Tinti moves the story along at a quick pace with a strong grasp of plot and structure. There is a lot of strong subplots at play that I have not mentioned because the do not want to spoil the surprises for anyone. All of the characters are original and fully realized, but this story is about Hawley and Loo, and they are head and shoulders above the rest.
Did I mention that Ms. Tinti writes like an angel? Usually in novels as full of action as this one is, a transparent prose works best. But Ms. Tinti is having none of that.Her prose absolutely sings, and I found myself reading passages aloud, particularly the final scene that closes the novel, to wife, even though she had not read the book. It’s very seldom that I come across a novel that does so many things so well, so read this book now. I can’t be any clearer than that.