The Need to Know: An epic adventure, Hannah Tinti’s The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley explores how we get to where we are and how we love our family, sins, foibles, and all.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley opens with Samuel Hawley teaching his 12-year-old daughter, Loo, how to shoot a gun. This small chapter tells us so much about the characters and the secrets that Tinti will reveal about their lives.
First of all, Samuel taught Loo’s mother, Lily, how to shoot guns. This is our first mention of Lily, who has been dead since Loo was an infant and who is the subject of a “traveling shrine that her [Loo’s] father re-created in the bathroom of each place they lived.” She’s held up on a pedestal to Loo and used as an example of behavior that Loo should always strive to emulate. “When Loo did something well, her father said: Just like your mother, and when she did something bad, her father said: Your mother would never approve.”
Second, this is our first mention of guns, which come to be a fairly substantial part of the book. We’re told from the opening chapter that Hawley has lots of guns which he travels with, and he “was always watching. Always waiting.”
Samuel and Loo stop travelling the country to move to Olympus, Massachusetts, where Lily was from. Tinti intersperses their present life in Massachusetts with tales from the Hawley family’s past, including how Samuel got the many bullet holes which riddle his body and how Lily died. This is really where we learn some of their secrets, and how Samuel and Loo learn that the person that someone is now isn’t always the person they were before or the person they’ll be later.
When the moment of reckoning comes for the Hawley family, when Hawley’s past comes knocking, Tinti beautifully and powerfully delivers an ending that brings this glorious epic to a close.
The plot that I’ve provided here just doesn’t do this book justice. There are many scenes in the book which are action-heavy, but most of all I loved Tinti’s characterization and gorgeous language. Tinti is an excellent writer who weaves words and sentences together into rapturous prose.
Take this sentence about a whale: “The creature rolled sideways, a rotating school bus, and lifted its pectoral fin high in the air and then spun it easily and dove, showing the full running slick of its long back, until there was only the fluke rising, the tail’s ragged edge flecked with white, bending and scraping the surface of the heavens and then plunging deep into the earth.”
If you read this book, you’ll love it.
**I received my complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley, but all opinions expressed here are my own.
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