Fa­ther-daugh­ter bond­ing with a dif­fer­ence

There’s a lit­tle too much rep­e­ti­tion in parts of this novel, in which an out­law fa­ther tries to ex­plain his life to a daugh­ter old enough to be­come cu­ri­ous.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads - Re­view by SHARIL DEWA star2@thestar.com.my

THE premise of The Twelve Lives Of Sa­muel Haw­ley is an in­ter­est­ing one: a fa­ther with a vi­o­lent past try­ing to forge a re­la­tion­ship with a daugh­ter on the brink of wom­an­hood who wants to know just who her fa­ther is.

With a stel­lar premise, and a clever fu­sion of the dra­matic tale of an out­law and his com­ing-of-age daugh­ter and a thriller, my ex­pec­ta­tions were high for Han­nah Tinti’s se­cond novel.

(Any­one who has read Tinti’s ex­cel­lent de­but, The Good Thief, pub­lished by Dial Press in 2008, would be ex­cited at her new novel, which comes nine long years af­ter her first foray into pub­lish­ing.)

So it is dis­ap­point­ing that the ex­e­cu­tion of Tinti’s med­i­ta­tion on pa­ter­nal bond­ing does not live up to the hype sur­round­ing the novel.

Sa­muel Haw­ley’s life story is told in 12 chap­ters – each one re­flect­ing a bul­let that has lodged it­self in the tit­u­lar pro­tag­o­nist’s body, leav­ing a scar as a re­minder of Sa­muel’s vi­o­lent past which is told through flash­backs, and a point of ref­er­ence for his daugh­ter Louise (re­ferred to as Loo through­out the novel) to find the fa­ther be­hind the out­law.

The novel opens with Loo at 12 years old, and she and her fa­ther set­tling down in Olym­pus, Mas­sachusetts, which is where the bulk of the story is set.

Loo makes it clear from the start that it had al­ways been her and Sa­muel, the two of them mov­ing around the coun­try to keep ahead of law en­forcers, shady deal­ers, and other vi­o­lent peo­ple who have been crossed by Sa­muel.

Pre­dictably, the con­stant mov­ing means Loo has no friends. Sa­muel, we learn, has led a che­quered life defined by his gun col­lec­tion and a body filled with scars from a life­time of bad de­ci­sions, one too many drunken brawls, and numer­ous brushes with vi­o­lence.

With the first bul­let, read­ers learn that Olym­pus is the home­town of Loo’s mother, Lily. Lily died when Loo was two (her demise is re­counted in painful de­tail to­wards the end of the novel). Lily’s mother, Ma­bel Ridge, is a bit­ter wo­man who has noth­ing but loathing for Sa­muel, as she blames him for Lily’s death and for tak­ing Loo away from her.

Upon their re­turn to Olym­pus, Sa­muel is faced with re­sis­tance from Ma­bel and sev­eral lo­cals who hold a grudge against him, and Loo is bul­lied by her peers at school. Both face their re­spec­tive prob­lems by re­act­ing vi­o­lently. Sa­muel’s method of help­ing Loo with the prob­lems she is fac­ing at school, for in­stance, is to teach her how to shoot. Tinti de­scribes at length the var­i­ous guns in Sa­muel’s ar­se­nal and the dif­fer­ent types of dam­age each gun can cause. While it is in­ter­est­ing, this scene could have been more ef­fec­tive if it had been edited down.

Tinti also has Loo be­come ob­sessed with want­ing to know more about her mother, which re­sults in the girl col­lect­ing, in se­cret, as many of Lily’s per­sonal arte­facts as pos­si­ble and ques­tion­ing Sa­muel about his time with Lily and his life in gen­eral.

While it is clever to have bul­let scars as a source of sto­ry­telling, the sim­i­lar­ity of in­ci­dents in Sa­muel’s vi­o­lent past mean that they be­gin to blend into each other. The only dif­fer­ence be­tween each bul­let tale is the lo­ca­tion where Sa­muel got shot. The al­most cut-and-paste method to this part of the nar­ra­tive re­sulted in this re­viewer hav­ing dif­fi­culty in main­tain­ing an in­ter­est in Sa­muel’s life mid-way through the novel.

As The Twelve Lives is a work of fic­tion, a cer­tain amount of sus­pen­sion of be­lieve is ex­pected, of course. How­ever, I was hard pressed to be­lieve that Sa­muel never needed med­i­cal at­ten­tion af­ter be­ing shot all those numer­ous times.

The pri­mary is­sue with The Twelve Lives is that it suffers from a tad too much rep­e­ti­tion. As men­tioned, Sa­muel’s past seems to be a car­bon copy of one idea re­peated 12 times. And his de­tailed fa­therly pep talk about his guns suffers from be­ing too long and also some­what repet­i­tive. I would have been able to main­tain my in­ter­est if Sa­muel’s sto­ries were more suc­cinct and the novel half its length.

While it may not be atro­ciously un­read­able, The Twelve Lives Of Sa­muel Haw­ley could have ben­e­fit­ted from Tinti learn­ing to edit her work.

Photo: DANI SHAPIRO/han­naht­inti.com

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