Friday, October 6, 2017

Contemporary Fiction: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

Once again, shout-out to Half Price Books and their section of discounted new titles, coupled with their coupons and sales. I always feel better about the impulse book purchase when paying less than full price, and Hannah Tinti's The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley was on the right shelf at the right time. 

The Situation: Louise "Loo" Hawley has never lived in one place for long. She and her father, called "Hawley" by most everyone he knows, have had to pick up and leave quickly from many locations over the course of her life. When they do make their temporary home somewhere, Hawley has the same ritual of turning the bathroom into a makeshift shrine to his dead wife, Lily. Loo would note the strangeness of such an act if she was not so used to it. It is just something Hawley has always done. Now the pair have settled once again in Olympus, Massachusetts, which happened to be Lily's hometown. For the first time in a long time, Hawley and Loo manage to stay put for a few years, with Loo going to school and Hawley finding steady and legitimate work. The locals may be suspicious and wary of the strange pair, but like always, they are able to make it work.

The Problem: Hawley has a past, one that he would do anything to protect his daughter from. But his attempts to keep her safe, while also keeping his many secrets, has made her curious, suspicious, and socially awkward. From how she reacts to bullies at school, it is clear Loo has inherited her father's temper, something he is not that excited to learn. Being the way he is has only earned him multiple bullet wounds, endless grief, and a life spent constantly looking over his shoulder, waiting for his past to catch up to him and his daughter. Now that Loo is older, she decides to start learning for herself about Hawley and her mother. Such knowledge may provide answers to questions she has had all of her life, but it will threaten to create distance between herself and the only person she has ever truly trusted. And while his daughter grows up into her own person, Hawley cannot seem to change who he has become, or avoid those who want to find him.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel set in present day Massachusetts, though stories from Hawley's past come from various locations all over North America. Loo's story begins when she is 12 years old and Hawley teaches her how to shoot a gun, and carries through to her 17th birthday. But in between snapshots of their life in Olympus, the story between each of Hawley's bullet wounds is told. To say that the man has led a hard life would be an understatement. Hawley is man who always has a gun on him. He is careful to the point of paranoia, and if a situation is even slightly off from what he thinks it should be, he is prepared to take action. Even so, such a high level of caution has not helped him avoid being shot multiple times in different situations, with those who are with him getting hit as well. It is his past that has caused him to be so careful and worried when it comes to his daughter. And it is his temper that causes everyone in town to be careful about him. Even without knowing his past, people quickly become wary about him due to how he prefers to dole out his own justice instead of waiting on authorities. Hawley is not only a difficult man who has lead a hard life, but he is also a father drowning in grief and running from fear. And one of those fears is that his daughter will end up just like him.

My Verdict: This is a book with thoroughly fleshed out characters whose fear and suspicion can be felt on almost every page. Hawley is a man not to be messed with; Loo has grown into a young woman not to be messed with, but can still be undone by a local boy; and then there are various others in the community, such as Loo's hardened grandmother, the well-meaning high school principal, Hawley's old partner in crime, and the widow still dealing with her own grief in a way that would only hurt the local economy. The problem for me is that it is hard to root for any of these people, including Hawley and Loo. The former should be dead, and the latter is headed towards the same fate if she is not careful. But ultimately, it becomes clear that everyone is simply doing their best to manage their own pain and failing at it. 

Favorite Moment: *spoiler alert* When Lily is revealed to be the reason behind one of Hawley's gunshot wounds.

Favorite Character: Principal Gunderson may be annoying, but he ultimately has Loo's best interest in mind and does what he can to help her. 

Recommended Reading: American War by Omar El Akkad tells a story of a woman hardened by war and the little boy who wished to learn her story.

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