The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

A Novel
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NATIONAL BESTSELLER • “A gripping American-on-the-run thriller . . . a brilliant coming-of-age tale and a touching exploration of father-daughter relationships.”—Newsweek
 
“One part Quentin Tarantino, one part Scheherazade, and twelve parts wild innovation.”—Ann Patchett, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Commonwealth

NAMED ONE OF PASTE’S BEST NOVELS OF THE DECADE • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR • The Washington Post • Paste 

Samuel Hawley isn’t like the other fathers in Olympus, Massachusetts. A loner who spent years living on the run, he raised his beloved daughter, Loo, on the road, moving from motel to motel, always watching his back. Now that Loo’s a teenager, Hawley wants only to give her a normal life. In his late wife’s hometown, he finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at the local high school.

Growing more and more curious about the mother she never knew, Loo begins to investigate. Soon, everywhere she turns, she encounters the mysteries of her parents’ lives before she was born. This hidden past is made all the more real by the twelve scars her father carries on his body. Each scar is from a bullet Hawley took over the course of his criminal career. Each is a memory: of another place on the map, another thrilling close call, another moment of love lost and found. As Loo uncovers a history that’s darker than she could have known, the demons of her father’s past spill over into the present—and together both Hawley and Loo must face a reckoning yet to come.

Praise for The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

“A master class in literary suspense.”The Washington Post

“Tinti depicts brutality and compassion with exquisite sensitivity, creating a powerful overlay of love and pain.”The New Yorker

“Hannah Tinti’s beautifully constructed second novel . . . uses the scars on Hawley’s body—all twelve bullet wounds, one by one—to show who he is, what he’s done, and why the past chases and clings to him with such tenacity.”The Boston Globe

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is an adventure epic with the deeper resonance of myth. . . . Tinti exhibits an aptitude for shining a piercing light into the corners of her characters’ hearts and minds.”O: The Oprah Magazine

Praise

“Can a man be both a violent criminal and a good father? Imagine a Quentin Tarantino movie crossed with a John Green novel, and you’ll have a sense of what this coming-of-age novel is like.”Entertainment Weekly

“Tinti depicts brutality and compassion with exquisite sensitivity, creating a powerful overlay of love and pain.” The New Yorker

“The book [has] an irresistible velocity that Ms. Tinti sustains to the end.”The Wall Street Journal

“Tinti has established herself as one of our great storytellers. She draws you in with this book, and it’s really difficult to get away.”Rolling Stone 

“A shoot-em-up, a love story and a mystery, this is one heartwarming feast of a book.”People

“The term ‘literary thriller’ is almost an oxymoron. It’s the writerly equivalent of threading a needle while riding on a rollercoaster, requiring attention to character and fine prose while hurtling from one near-disaster to another. Only a few writers can pull it off, and Hannah Tinti is one of them. . . . The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is a gripping father-daughter road trip where the bad guys are never far behind. . . . Tarantino-like in its plot twists, action, and violence, the novel sweeps across the country and back and forth in time. Its structure feels as meticulously crafted as a matchstick Taj Mahal.”Interview

“Tinti makes each of her crime scenes wildly different yet equally suspenseful. As skillful as she is, she never romanticizes her bad actors. What most deeply interests her is the stumbling, fumbling humanity that results in bad actions. . . . She fuses urgent, vibrant storytelling with a keen understanding of broken people desperate to be whole.”Newsday

“Even before the official release of The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley in March, early readers deemed it worthy of excitement. . . . At once a coming-of-age adventure, a love story and a literary thriller.”Time

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is a miraculous accomplishment in genre-bending: Not only a gripping American-on-the-run thriller, it’s also a brilliant coming-of-age tale and a touching exploration of father-daughter relationships. Regardless of what your reading tastes are, there’s something here for absolutely everyone.”Newsweek

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is an adventure epic with the deeper resonance of myth. . . . Tinti exhibits an aptitude for shining a piercing light into the corners of her characters’ hearts and minds. Her ability to lay bare their passions, portraying their vulnerabilities and violent urges with equal insight, leaves the reader at once shaken and moved.”O: The Oprah Magazine

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is one part Quentin Tarantino, one part Scheherazade, and twelve parts wild innovation. Hannah Tinti proves herself to be an old-fashioned storyteller of the highest order.”—Ann Patchett, author of Commonwealth

Excerpt

Hawley

When Loo was twelve years old her father taught her how to shoot a gun. He had a case full of them in his room, others hidden in boxes around the house. Loo had seen them at night, when he took the guns apart and cleaned them at the kitchen table, oiling and polishing and brushing for hours. She was forbidden to touch them and so she watched from a distance, learning what she could about their secrets, until the day when she blew out birthday candles on twelve chocolate Ring Dings, arranged on a plate in the shape of a star, and Hawley opened the wooden chest in their living room and put the gift she had been waiting for—­her grandfather’s rifle—­into her arms.

Now Loo waited in the hallway as her father pulled down a box of ammunition from the front closet. He took out some .22 rimfires—­long-­rifle and Magnum—­as well as nine-­millimeter Hornady 115-­grain. The bullets rattled inside their cardboard containers as he slid them into a bag. Loo took note of every detail, as if her father’s choices were part of a test she would later have to pass. Hawley grabbed a bolt-­action Model 5 Remington, a Winchester Model 52 and his Colt Python.

Whenever he left the house, Loo’s father carried a gun with him. Each of these guns had a story. There was the rifle that Loo’s grandfather had carried in the war, notched with kills, that now belonged to her. There was the twenty-­gauge shotgun from a ranch in Wyoming where Hawley worked for a time running horses. There was a set of silver dueling pistols in a polished wooden case, won in a poker game in Arizona. The snub-­nosed Ruger he kept in a bag at the back of his closet. The collection of derringers with pearl handles that he hid in the bottom drawer of his bureau. And the Colt with a stamp from Hartford, Connecticut, on the side.

The Colt had no particular resting place. Loo had found it underneath her father’s mattress and sitting openly on the kitchen table, on top of the refrigerator and once on the edge of the bathtub. The gun was her father’s shadow. Resting in the places he had passed through. If Hawley was out of the room, sometimes she would touch the handle. The grip was made of rosewood, and felt smooth beneath her fingers, but she never picked it up or moved it from whatever place he had set it down.

Hawley grabbed the Colt now and tucked it under his belt, then strung the rifles across his shoulder. He said, “Come on, troublemaker.” Then he held open the door for them both. He led his daughter into the woods behind their house and down into the ravine, where a stream rushed over mossy rocks before emptying out into the ocean.

It was a clear day. The leaves had abandoned their branches for the forest floor, a carpet of crimson, yellow and orange; crisp and rustling. Loo’s father marked a pine tree at two hundred yards with a small spot of white paint, then set the bucket down and walked back to his daughter and the guns.

Hawley was in his forties but looked younger, his hips still narrow, his legs strong. He was as tall as a longboat, with wide shoulders that sloped from the years of driving his truck back and forth across the country with Loo in the passenger seat. His hands were callused from the day jobs he’d work from time to time—­fixing cars or painting houses. His fingernails were lined with grease and his dark hair was always overgrown and tangled. But his eyes were a deep blue and he had a face that was rough and broken in a way that came out handsome. Wherever they had stopped on the road, whether it was for breakfast at some diner on the highway, or in a small town where they’d set up for a while, Loo would notice women drifting toward him. But her father would make his mouth go still and set his jaw and it kept anyone from getting too close.

These days his truck wasn’t going anywhere except down to the water, where they dug clams and hauled buckets of shells. Quahogs, Hawley called them. But also littlenecks, topnecks, steamers and cherrystones, depending on their size and color. He used a rake to hunt but Loo preferred a long, thin spade that could pierce the surface before the creatures began to burrow. Early each morning father and daughter rolled their pants above their knees and slipped on rubber boots. The shells were pulled from the salt marshes and mudflats, from the sandy bay and at low tide along the shore.

Hawley took the Remington off his shoulder and showed Loo how to load the clip. Five bullets slid inside, one by one. Then the magazine clicked into place.

“This is for starters. A practice gun. It won’t do much damage. But still,” he said. “Keep the safety on. Check your target and what’s behind your target. Don’t point it at anything you don’t want to shoot.”

He opened the bolt, retracted, then closed it again, pulling the first live round into the chamber. Then he handed his daughter the rifle. “Plant your feet,” he said. “Loosen your knees. Take a breath. Let half of it out. That’s when you want to squeeze the trigger. On the exhale. Don’t pull—­just squeeze.”

The Remington was cool and heavy in Loo’s hands, and her arms shook a little as she raised the stock to her shoulder. She had dreamed of holding one of her father’s guns for so many years that it was as if she were dreaming now. She tried to level the sight as she took aim, pulled the handle in close, lifted her elbow and last, last of all, flipped off the safety.

“What are you going to shoot?” her father asked.

“That tree,” said Loo.

“Right.”

In her mind she imagined the trajectory of the bullet, saw it going for miles, creating its own history. She knew every part of this gun, every gear and bolt, and she could sense each piece now—­the spring and the carrier and the chamber and the pin—­working together and sliding into place as she touched the trigger.

The explosion that followed was more of a pop than a blast. The butt of the rifle barely moved against her shoulder. She expected a thrill, some kind of corresponding shudder in her body, but all she felt was a tiny bubble of relief.

“Look,” her father said.

Loo lowered the barrel. She could just make out the white mark in the distance, untouched. “I missed.”

“Everyone misses.” Hawley scratched his nose. “Your mother missed.”

“She did?”

“The first time,” he said. “Now slide the bolt.”

“Did she use this gun?”

“No,” said Hawley. “She liked the Ruger.”

Loo pulled back on the lever and the casing flung through the air and onto the forest floor. She locked the bolt back into place, and the next bullet slid into the chamber. Her mother, Lily, had died before the girl could remember. A drowning accident in a lake. Hawley had shown Loo the exact spot where it had happened, on a map of Wisconsin. A small blue circle she could hide with the tip of her finger.

Hawley did not like to speak about it. Because of this the air shimmered a bit whenever he did, as if Lily’s name were conjuring something dangerous. Most of what Loo knew about her mother was contained in a box full of mementos, a traveling shrine that her father re-­created in the bathroom of each place they lived. Motel rooms and temporary apartments, walk-­ups and cabins in the woods, and now this house on the hill, this place that Hawley said would be their home.

The photographs went up first, around the bathtub and sink. Her father affixed each carefully so they wouldn’t rip—­shots of Loo’s mother and her long black hair, pale skin and green eyes. Next he arranged half-­used bottles of shampoo and conditioner, a compact and a tube of red lipstick, a bent toothbrush, a silk bathrobe with dragons sewn on the back and cans of Lily’s favorite foods—­pineapple and garbanzo beans—­along with bits of handwriting, scraps of paper discovered after her death, things she had needed from the grocery store, lists of activities she had hoped to finish by the following Saturday and a parking ticket with fragments of a dream scribbled on the back. Old car with hinges folds down into a suitcase. Every time Loo used the toilet or took a bath, she faced her mother’s words, watching the letters bleed together over the years and the ink fade from the steam of the shower.

The dead woman was an ever-­present part of their lives. 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.

Loo squeezed the trigger. She did it again and again, reloading for over an hour, occasionally nicking bark from the tree but missing the target every time, until there was a pile of brass shells at her feet and her arm ached from the weight of the gun.

“The mark’s too small,” said Loo. “I’ll never hit it.”

Hawley pulled a wallet of tobacco from his pocket and shook it back and forth at her. Loo put down the gun. She walked over and took the pouch from him, as well as a package of rolling papers. She slid one thin piece of paper away from the rest, folded it in half with her finger and then tucked some of the tobacco along the crease. Then she placed the filter and began rolling, pinching the ends, licking the edge to seal the fold. She handed the cigarette to her father, and he lit it and settled onto a rock nearby, leaning into the sun. He had started a beard, as he did whenever the weather turned cold, and he scratched it now, his fingers catching in the wiry brown hair.

“You’re thinking too much.”

Loo tossed the pouch at him, then picked up the rifle again. Her father had hardly spoken during the lesson, as if he expected her to already know how to shoot. She’d been excited when they started, but now she was losing her nerve—­in the same way she did in the bathroom surrounded by scraps of her mother’s words and cans of her mother’s favorite foods and pictures of her mother’s effortless beauty.

“I can’t do this,” she said.

The tide was coming in. Loo could hear the ocean beyond the ravine, gathering strength. One wave after another advancing upon the shore. Hawley tucked the roll of tobacco back into his pocket.

“There’s nothing between you and that tree.”

“I’m between it.”

“Then get out of the way.”

Loo flipped the safety on and put the rifle down again. She dug a rock out of the dirt with her fingers and threw it into the woods as far as she could. The rock sailed halfway toward the white mark and then crashed into some bushes. Birds scattered. The sound of a plane passed overhead. Loo looked through the branches at the flash of aluminum in the sky. Thirty thousand feet away and it seemed like an easier target.

Hawley’s cigarette had gone out as he watched her and now he relit the end, striking a match, the ember glowing once, twice, as he brought it to his lips. Then he crushed the cigarette against the rock. He blew smoke out of his mouth.

“You need a mask.” Hawley lifted his giant hands and covered his own face. Then he opened his fingers, framing his eyes and forming a bridge across his nose. It made him look like a stranger. Then Hawley dropped the mask and he was her father again.

“Try it,” he said.

Loo’s hands were not as big but they did the job, closing her off from the woods and her own disappointment. It was like blinders on a horse. Things got blurry or disappeared when she turned her eyes left or right.

“How am I supposed to shoot like this?”

“Use it to focus, then pick up the gun,” said Hawley.

Loo turned back toward the target. The sun was beginning to set. The white spot of paint caught the light and was glowing. What surrounded the tree—­the earth, the sky, its own branches—­fell away. This was how her father must see things, she thought. A whole world of bull’s-­eyes.

Just then, beyond the mark, there was a shuffling of leaves. Some kind of movement in the woods. Loo dropped her hands from her face. She held her breath. She heard only the sound of the wind. The rattle of birch leaves flipping back and forth. The distant echo of the plane in the clouds. The scratch of a squirrel’s claws as it scrambled up the bark of a tree. But her father was listening for something else. His chin was down, his eyes cutting left. His face tensed and ready.

Hawley was always watching. Always waiting. He got the same look when they went into town for supplies, when the mailman came to their door, when a car pulled alongside them on the road. She heard him late at night, walking the living room floor, checking the locks on the windows. Digging on the beach for clams, he kept his back to the sea. These were small things, but she noticed. And she noticed now, as his whole body became still. He reached behind to his belt, and his hand came back with the Colt.

Reader's Guide

1. The central relationship in this story is the one between Samuel Hawley and his daughter, Loo. In what ways are they similar, and in what ways are they different? How do Hawley and Loo evoke the special bond between fathers and daughters?

2. So much of this story begins at “The Greasy Pole.” What did you like about this particular chapter? How does it color your under- standing of the distinctive town of Olympus, Massachusetts? How does it shift your perspective of Hawley, as a father and as a man?

3. Discuss the theme of secrets. What are the secrets that drive the action of the novel? How do secrets bring characters together? How do they drive them apart?

4. So many great stories are founded on the distinctions between heroes and villains, but in this novel, the line between the two is not so easily discernable. Who do you feel are the heroes of this story? Who are the villains? How did this novel make you rethink how you define good and evil?

5. Discuss the structure of this novel. How does the switch between past and present contribute to the arc of the story? How does it deepen our understanding of Hawley and Loo, and connect these two very different coming-of-age stories?

6. In this novel we are taken on a road trip across America. How do the themes of travel and searching play a role in this story? Which setting did you enjoy the most? When Hawley and Loo finally settle in Olympus, how does this new, permanent home impact them?

7. As we get to know Hawley and Loo, we begin to understand that “Loo’s mother had been dead for years but she had never been invis- ible.” How does Lily play a role in the novel, even though she is no longer with her husband and daughter? How does her absence drive their actions and motivations?

8. While so much of this novel concerns the stories of relation- ships between characters, there is also great significance in the relationships between these characters and nature—for example, Lily and Loo’s fascination with the stars, or Hawley’s interactions with a whale. How does the natural world contribute to the story- lines of these characters and help them find their places in the universe?

9. This novel focuses on the love between a parent and child, but there is also romantic love between Hawley and Lily, Mary Titus and Principal Gunderson, and especially Loo and Marshall Hicks. Do you think any of these romantic relationships are successful? Why do you think Lily stays with Hawley? How does Loo’s bond with Marshall change her?

10. Objects carry immense significance in this novel, from the watches to the star map to the bathroom shrine of Lily’s things. For Hawley and Loo, these objects represent important memories. How do these pieces of the past influence the present? How do characters’ memories help or hurt them? Which objects did you remember the most after you’d finished reading the book?

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