Saturday, April 22, 2017
Book Review: "The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley" by Hannah Tinti
For as long she can remember, it's just been the two of themLoo and her father, Samuel. He's a mysterious man, with scars all over his body, including many from bullet wounds, but his rough exterior belies a deep sensitivity borne from the death of her mother, Lily, when she was very young. Samuel and Loo have a nomadic like existence in her childhoodjust as it seems they're getting settled somewhere, suddenly one day her father will come home and tell her they're moving away, and they pack up only the essentials and flee wherever they're living, setting out on a new course. One of the only constants she knows is the shrine of sorts her father builds for her mother wherever they go, tiny glimpses into a life she never really knew.
"The marks on her father's body had always been there. He did not show them off to Loo but he did not hide them, either. 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..."
In Loo's teenage years, Samuel recognizes the need for constancy, so the two move to Olympus, the New England town where her mother grew up. He finds workand challengesas a fisherman, while Loo tries to fit in at the local high school. But it isn't long before the characteristics that make Loo special, the behaviors that come from a young girl raised only by her father, that she becomes an outcast, which awakens a surprising anger deep inside her, at the same time that she finds herself drawn to one particular boy.
The longer they stay in Olympus, the more entangled in the community and its quirks both become, yet the more Samuel can't seem to escape his old ways. Loo becomes more desperate to know about her mother, and the secrets her father has kept hidden all her life, and being Olympus helps to unlock some of those mysteries, yet leaves her questioning just who her father is, and whether the things he has kept from her all of her life were lies or simply sins of omission.
As much as this book is about Loo and Samuel's relationship, it's also Samuel's story, a chronicling of his criminal past and where each of his bullet scars came from, and the story of a love he thought would save him, a love he didn't nurture and care for as much as he should have. And it's also the story of a man trying desperately to tread the right path for his daughter despite his inability to keep his own demons at bay.
This was a fantastic, moving, beautifully told book. The relationship between Samuel and Loo is truly a special one, and even though he's not the best role model for his daughter, and he introduces elements into her life she would have been better off without, these things give color and shape to their relationship. There are times you wonder if Loo might be happier and more adjusted without her father, but then again, what would her life be without him?
While The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is essentially a two-person story (with Lily's presence a strong third element), Tinti doesn't give the supporting characters short shrift. These are fascinating, flawed, memorable individuals who are so much more complex than they first appear. Not all of these characters are likable, but they truly bring something special to the book.
You may not think that Samuel is deserving of sympathy (or empathy, for that matter), but like many a flawed character in literature, you care about him despite his flaws, and for his good qualities, especially the fierceness with which he loves and protects his daughter. This is a book I won't soon forget.
NetGalley and Random House provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!