The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Samuel Tinti
Published by Dial Press on March 28, 2017
Genre(s): fiction, contemporary
Format & Length: e-book, 416
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A father protects his daughter from the legacy of his past and the truth about her mother’s death in this thrilling new novel from the prize-winning author of The Good Thief.
After years spent living on the run, Samuel Hawley moves with his teenage daughter, Loo, to Olympus, Massachusetts. There, in his late wife’s hometown, Hawley finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school and grows curious about her mother’s mysterious death. Haunting them both are twelve scars Hawley carries on his body, from twelve bullets in his criminal past; a past that eventually spills over into his daughter’s present, until together they must face a reckoning yet to come. This father-daughter epic weaves back and forth through time and across America, from Alaska to the Adirondacks.
Both a coming-of-age novel and a literary thriller, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley explores what it means to be a hero, and the cost we pay to protect the people we love most.
I’m not entirely sure what I expected from The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, but this book wasn’t it. It’s not as if the blurb is at all misleading; in fact, it’s a rather good description. Except perhaps for the use of the term “literary thriller.” Maybe I’m just jaded from reading so many thriller and suspense novels, but I didn’t find this to be particularly thrilling.
“But the past is like a shadow, always trying to catch up.”
A character study of Samuel and his daughter, Loo, this book unfolds from the present and past to examine their life and relationship. The present chapters focus on their life in Olympus, Massachusetts, where they have settled down after living nomadically for much of Loo’s youth. The past chapters reveal the events relating to each of the twelve scars on Samuel’s body, uncovering his backstory as elements from his past begin to affect their present. Both of these main characters, as well as many of the secondary characters, are complex and well drawn out. And even though many of them don’t have what many would consider “normal” lives, through them this story explores various facets of humanity and how we all experience love and trauma and grief in different ways.
So this sounds like a provocative and captivating read, right? Unfortunately for me, it just… wasn’t. The writing was good and actually helped keep my attention when I paused to consider whether or not to continue reading. Plenty of events and action occurred throughout as well. But I still wouldn’t call this a thriller. The pacing wasn’t consistent, switching between fast action and slow drama too many times. And the characters, although interesting, were awfully inscrutable and difficult for me to connect with.
Ultimately, I can appreciate what The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley was trying to do but it just wasn’t the right book for me. This has gotten a good amount of high praise, though, so if it sounds like it’s your type of book maybe it’s worth a shot. If you’re looking for a more standard thriller, though, this might not be for you either.