The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

A rambling saga that bounces across the United States, Hannah Tinti's ambitious second novel (after 2008's acclaimed The Good Thief) is the story of widower and vagabond Sam Hawley and his adolescent daughter, Loo. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is a road trip through Sam's criminal past, flashing back to the shooting incidents that tattooed him with 12 bullet-hole scars. It is also a novel of the Olympus, Mass., coastal town where Loo's mother, Lily, lived before hooking up with Sam. All Loo knows of Lily and her premature death by drowning is gleaned from Sam's bathroom shrine of bric-a-brac memories. Much of what she knows of her taciturn father is the story behind each of his many guns and his terse fatherly advice about shooting, recognizing navigable stars and valuing work.

Tinti's novel covers a lot of ground, but at its heart lies Loo's emerging adulthood and independence. Sam takes her back to Olympus to meet her grandmother, who still resents him for taking Lily away. The school principal was once Lily's schoolmate boyfriend, and covers for Loo's wildness in class and tendency to break the rules. She falls for a loner boy whose environmental activist mother is trying to cap the local fishermen's catch.

Like Melville, Tinti occasionally runs on with details of guns, bullets, shirtsleeve first aid, whale habits, hot-wiring stolen cars, fishing and digging clams. But she pulls it together at the end as Loo maneuvers to save Sam from yet another shooting. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is a big novel--ambitious, expansive and satisfying. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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