Page Turners

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley and the Past




If you’ve spent any time reading my thoughts and ramblings on stories you’ll have picked up that I’m fascinated with stories that examine criminals and why they commit crimes. That’s a pretty broad category of narrative, and there are plenty of smaller niches that I find myself gravitating towards. And one of those niches is a very specific sub-genre of crime story that revolve around fathers and daughters trying to survive in a world of crime. I’ve already talked about a terrific novel called She Rides Shotgun that peaks into that particular kind of world, and I’ve been a huge fan of the classic film Paper Moon, which is certainly a more light-hearted take on the genre, but still delivers that strangely satisfying father/daughter crime dynamic. Being a guy who doesn’t have kids yet, and doesn’t even have a sister, I’m not quite sure why the father/daughter dynamic works so well with me, but I’m always on the lookout for more stories that fall into this category, telling the story of a family doing their best to survive in a world of crime. And, I’ve recently found a novel that is carried by this sort of relationship, and it’s a hell of a good ride too. It’s Hannah Tinti’s The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, and it’s legitimately one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley follows the titular Samuel Hawley and his daughter Louise, or Loo as she prefers to be called. The narrative switches roles, every other chapter either telling the story of Loo’s life as she grows up with her mysterious father, or the various stories of the twelve bullets that Samuel Hawley has been shot with over his life, filling in his shadowy past. Loo’s mother died when she was just a baby, and she and Hawley had spent most of her life travelling around the country, never staying in one space too long, constantly on the run from Hawley’s past. But, eventually, they settle down in the sleepy New England town that Loo’s mother Lily grew up in. They kind of live as outsiders in the town for a while, but eventually ingratiate themselves, finally setting down roots for the first time in either of their lives. We then get to see Loo grow up, become her own woman, and struggle to deal with her own past. She never knew her mother, and is constantly looking for something to relate with her, trying to find who her mother was to point her in the right direction of finding out who she is.

Meanwhile, we get to learn what happened to Samuel Hawley over the years, and what brought him to the point of running around the country with his pre-teen daughter. Hawley had always been a bit of a screw-up, finding a penchant for thievery and murder, which eventually put him in a position where he’s under the thumb of a mobster that eventually grows to hate him thanks to a catastrophically failed assignment. Hawley ended up not being able to protect his wife, losing her to a figure from his past before throwing him into a spiral of chaos. He considered abandoning his daughter, and even comes close to suicide, but he ends up pulling it all together after finding a purpose in his life in the form of his daughter. The two form a real like in their sleepy town, but eventually Hawley’s past rears its ugly head, and he and Loo are forced to reckon with his past decisions.

This is a very fun novel, full of a really fast-paced and addictive prose that helps you fly through the novel, becoming incredibly invested in these characters and the struggles that they go through. For significant portions of the novel things can slow down and becoming a fascinating coming-of-age story with Loo, telling the story of a young woman who is struggling to find out who she is, before jogging back in time to tell a series of thrilling crime vignettes with her father, slowly building up the foreboding past that Hawley is running from. Because this whole story is really about the past, and how it effects our present. From Loo’s perspective she’s struggling to learn about her own past, specifically the mother she never knew. Hawley never wants to talk about her, and Loo is desperate to find anything about her, hoping that unlocking the secrets of her mother’s past will help her for her own life. Meanwhile, everything we learn about Hawley are the numerous terrible decisions he’s made in his life, and how they’ve consistently come back to bite him in the ass. He lost his wife thanks to a mistake he made in the past, and plans on spending the rest of his life on the run, hoping that his past will never catch up with him again. But, he too feels a strong draw from his wife’s past, and finally allows himself to settle down, only for his past to finally find him, and threaten to destroy his life. This novel is full of people who are trying to be something they’re not, and escaping the decisions that they made. Because we can’t run from our mistakes. They all catch up eventually. And, no matter how difficult it may be, accepting the mistakes of your past and attempting to rectify them is the right way to handle things.


The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley was written by Hannah Tinti, 2017.

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