Tuesday, 28 March 2017
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
review by Maryom
Loo Hawley can't remember her mother - she died in a swimming accident while Loo was just a baby. Since then Loo and her father have moved almost constantly from place to place, ready to pack up and go at a minute's notice, leaving behind everything but the necessities never settling in a place for more than a few months. Now Loo's twelve and her father has decided that they should settle down, try to build a 'normal' life for themselves in the coastal Massachusetts town her mother grew up in. It isn't easy to get the locals to accept them though - Loo can't find a way to fit in with her new schoolmates, and Hawley himself carries an aura of violence about him which keeps his new neighbours at bay. The past too continues to haunt them - from hints dropped by her grandmother and old newspaper clippings, Loo starts to build an account of her mother's death which doesn't match the tale told by her father, and the violent past Hawley is trying to outrun is still reaching out for him.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is an odd mix of a book, blending a coming of age novel with a violent crime thriller. As the story moves forwards, following Loo's (often disastrous) attempts to fit in at school and the beginnings of her first romance, it looks backwards too, exploring Hawley's life via the bullet scars that still serve as a reminder. Hawley slipped gradually into a life of crime and now wants to reinvent himself as a caring parent - but, as you might expect, his former associates and enemies aren't willing to let him.
I sometimes find I need to understand the 'shape' of a story before it really grabs me, and that happened here. Once I'd got to grips with the way the two story-lines were evolving, and the rather prickly characters of Loo and Hawley, I really enjoyed my read. It's cleverly plotted, giving hints about what may happen (or have happened) but never giving too much away in advance.
Although there's undoubtedly a lot of violence, I didn't find it gratuitous or glorifying. Tinti dwells more on Hawley's optimism that everything will go smoothly without the need for fire-power, and the pain inflicted on him when he's proved wrong, yet again. As his story was revealed, I found my sympathy for Hawley increasing, beginning to see him as caught in a vicious circle; he desperately wants to free himself from his past, but sometimes violence is the only way to fight off violence from others. Loo sees things differently - that guns represent power, and are a symbol of adulthood. Maybe it's learning that she's wrong that is her first step towards growing up. Hawley, though, is definitely the more intersting character.
I think the mix of themes may stop this from being a book for everyone, but I came to enjoy, and would definitely re-read, it.
Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Tinder Press
Genre - Adult fiction, literary, crime thriller, coming of age