Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

Posted April 21, 2017 by Taryn in Reviews / 1 Comment

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.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah TintiThe Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
Published by Random House Publishing Group on March 28th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Thrillers, General, Family Life
Pages: 400
Format: Electronic ARC
Source: NetGalley

“The past is like a shadow, always trying to catch up.”

A beautifully-written story about an unconventional father-daughter relationship. For as long as Loo can remember, it’s always been just her and her father Samuel Hawley; her mother Lily died when Loo was a baby. Hawley sets up a shrine to Lily at every single place they stop. They’ve never stayed in one place for long. By the time Loo is 12, she’s gone to seven schools in seven states. When it’s time for her to enter eighth grade, they finally settle down in her late mother’s hometown of Olympus, Massachusetts, a close-knit fishing community with some quaint traditions. As Loo grows up, she realizes that her life isn’t normal and starts to question everything. Why does Hawley take so many guns just to go fishing? What are the stories behind each of her father’s scars? How did her mother, an excellent swimmer, die by drowning? Perhaps if Loo can unravel the past, she can make sense of their present. The chapters alternate between the stories behind each of Samuel Hawley’s twelve bullet scars and Loo’s coming-of-age story.

The marks on her father’s body had always been there….They reminded her of the craters on the moon that she studied at night with her telescope. Circles made from comets and asteroids that slammed into the cold, hard rock because it had no protective atmosphere to burn them up. Like those craters, Hawley’s scars were signs of previous damage, that had impacted his life long before she was born. And like the moon, Hawley was always circling between Loo and the rest of the universe. Reflecting light at times, but only in slivers. And then, every thirty days or so, becoming the fullest and brightest object in the sky.

Samuel Hawley isn’t a good man, but he has goodness in him, especially when it comes to protecting his daughter. He does the best he can by his family, which isn’t always good enough. He resents his own father for leaving him unprepared for the challenges he’s faced, so he’s vowed not to repeat the same mistakes with his own child. His parenting style is unusual and the lessons he imparts aren’t always legal! His philosophy: “The world is a rotten place and you’ve got to find a way to be rotten if you’re going to live in it. But you also have to be smart.” While Hawley has trained Loo to be a survivor, many of the challenges she faces are because of his past mistakes. Hawley’s criminal career has complicated his life and as with the timepieces he transports, “the higher the number of complications, the higher the price.” Hawley left a trail of destruction and a number of loose threads behind him. The past isn’t done with him yet.

On Jupiter, Loo would weigh 283.6 pounds, while on Pluto she would weigh only 8. On Mercury she’d pull a respectable 45.3 but if she ventured to a white dwarf star, her body would balloon to 156 million pounds. Changing where you were could change how much you mattered.

Loo is an angry, violent kid. She’s never felt like she belonged and has always been a target of other children. She blames herself because the “cause must be some personal defect, some missing part of herself that the others recognized, a rotting, empty hole that whistled when she walked, no matter how quiet she tried to be.” She’s afraid no one will ever love her and worries that she lacks the capability to be a good person. She wants to feel connected to the universe and to be a positive force rather than a destructive one. Once Loo and Hawley settle down and she begins to form bonds outside of her father, she starts to see a way to forge her own path. 

Hawley sat down on the couch and took Lily’s hand. Just above her wedding band there was a tiny callus, a bit of skin worn tough from the pressure of the ring. It seemed like this hardened part of her had always been there, though Hawley knew there was a time when it wasn’t.

This book has so many great qualities: interesting story, unique characters, distinctive setting, and all the little details tie connect perfectly to the greater story. There are so many perfect elements, but I had a hard time getting into it. It took me several weeks to read the first third. I became invested once Lily is introduced and I had a firm grasp where the story was headed, but it lost me again in the last quarter.
(1) When there’s a mythic quality or peculiar details in realistic fiction (All the Light You Cannot See, Fates & Furies), I tend to disengage.
(2) I started to dread the bullet chapters. There was something almost whimsical about Hawley’s life that made the violence less affecting for me–perhaps a disconnect between tone and what was happening. The build-up to Hawley getting shot was often slow and the action-packed chapters felt long compared to Loo’s coming-of-age chapters.
(3) Loo’s love interest didn’t really come alive for me, though I liked the part that “first love” played in her coming into her own as a young woman.

Their hearts were all cycling through the same madness—the discovery, the bliss, the loss, the despair—like planets taking turns in orbit around the sun. Each containing their own unique gravity. Their own force of attraction. Drawing near and holding fast to whatever entered their own atmosphere.

Will uncovering their family history affect the bond between Loo and her father? No matter what, Hawley is still her family. In The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, everyone seems to be fighting the same battle. All the characters have the desperate need for love and connection and are capable of great destruction in order to find it or keep it. They also struggle with past mistakes and losses. The past is never over and done with; it bleeds into the present and affects the future. Sometimes the characters’ memories of the past are more vivid than the present.

“Somebody has to save the world instead of just destroying it.”

I may not have been the ideal reader for this book, but it has many great qualities. I just didn’t connect with it. I think it would make a great movie!

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