Loo and her dad have lived an unsettled life. Always moving from place to place. Loo’s dad, Hawley, has a mysterious past, represented by twelve different scars all over his body–all from bullets. At last, when Loo is a teenager, she and her father settle in Loo’s late mother’s hometown in Massachusetts. It’s not an easy adjustment, however–Loo has a lot to learn about navigating the world, and she also has to confront the not-so-warm welcome she and her father get in Olympus.
The story goes back and forth in time. One part of the book focuses on Loo trying to get her footing in her new town, and her attempts to uncover her family’s secrets. The novel also explores her father’s criminal past, one chapter for each bullet he took. Tinti structures the novel very well. The past sections are interspersed at precise moments in the story to either illuminate or to underscore what’s happening in the present. And when the past finally catches up toward the novel’s climax, the storylines merge.
I really enjoyed Loo as a character. She’s tough and maladjusted, as you’d expect. Yet her relationship with her father is the absolute center of her universe, for good and bad. The revelation of his past misdeeds seems to come as no surprise to her, and certainly doesn’t shock her. Instead, there’s the sense that there’s a new depth and understanding between them. As the story unfolds you realize that Loo and her dad are deeply flawed and not entirely sympathetic–but at least they’re deeply flawed together.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is a great mix of coming of age tale, crime story, and exploration of a father/daughter relationship. Tinti’s style is very descriptive, and she puts together scenes for maximum effect–whether it’s thrilling, frightening, or, sometimes, sweet. The sense of place is amazing, whether describing a shootout at a hotel or the woods of New England. If you like gritty books where characters aren’t always good but have their own brand of morality, you might enjoy this one. Fans of Donald Ray Pollock should take a look, too!