The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley: review

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley (NetGalley)
Hannah Tinti
Dial Press
release date: March 28, 2017

The story opens with Samuel Hawley teaching his twelve-year-old daughter Loo how to shoot a rifle. While she knew not to touch tThe twelve lives of Samuel Hawleyhem, guns were part of the backdrop of her life, hidden all over the house and cleaned nightly at the kitchen table. Her father never left the house without one, and he was always “listening for something else … always watching. Always waiting.” So it probably shouldn’t surprise the reader to learn that those twelve lives referred to in the title parallel twelve bullet scars that Samuel carries.

For as long as she can remember, Loo (short for Louise) and her father have rarely stayed in one place longer than a few months. They’ve crisscrossed the country in his truck, settling down in hotels long enough for her to attend school, often picking up and moving on before the year is over. They live on ramen noodles and take-out Chinese, play card games at night. At each stop Loo unpacks her few belongings while Samuel sets up a shrine in the bathroom to her dead mother’s memory: a bottle of shampoo and conditioner on the edge of the bathtub; a lipstick and compact; a parking ticket, shopping list, and scribbled notes propped on the mirror. The “dead woman” we learn, “was an ever-present part of their lives.”

Samuel and Loo finally come to settle in Olympus, Massachusetts, her mother Lily’s hometown. A house in the woods, ocean fishing, grandmother nearby–it sounds almost idyllic after twelve years of gypsy living. But that grandmother won’t acknowledge Loo, and the girl is often in trouble at school. Samuel is shunned by the small town and at odds with more established fishermen. Alternating chapters between Loo’s present and Samuel’s past, writer Hannah Tinti uses the bullet scars to tell Samuel’s back-story. And it’s not a pretty one.

Since he was barely sixteen, Samuel has made his way in the world by stealing and killing. The loving father and grieving widower is a criminal on the run. (I tried to figure out a way to slant that fact–some way to tell the truth a little more gently–but there it is.) Samuel Hawley has delivered stolen goods and been a hit man. He’s a runner for mob types and has good reason for all those guns. It seems that criminals keep score.

Now I’ve never shot a gun, and I can hardly think of a situation in which I’d shoot one. I don’t like violent movies–even those that get critical acclaim. I’m a law-abiding school teacher. (How’s that for status quo?!) But I was riveted by The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley. Tinti created a character I loved, whose actions I despised … but maybe came to understand.

And as luck would have it, yesterday’s Weekend Edition on NPR featured an interview with the author that might also pique your bookish interest. Published this week, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is an engaging read.

Flash Fiction Friday

Elle leaned against the fender of the Plymouth watching fireflies blink over the field across the highway. She had pulled onto the shoulder over an hour ago with a flat tire; it was nearly nine, but the air was still close. Her tank top stuck to her back where it had been pressed against the vinyl seat. She pulled her hair into a pony and rolled her neck.

Doug Kerr @ Flickr.com

Forty-five minutes to home and now she’d be later still. Sighing, she kicked a gravel from her flip flop and shifted onto her hip. A tow truck slowed on the other side of the median and pulled into the emergency turn-around. She waved and he flicked on his flashers. As the driver pulled up behind her, she straightened. Smoothed her hair for whatever reason. Wiped sweaty palms on her skirt.

“You gotta spare?” he asked. The name stitched on his pocket said Wayne. She’d called for a tow, knowing the spare was circa 2000, same as the car, and probably shot to hell.

“Cheaper to fix it than have to drive you to the station and wait until we find a new one.”

“Well try then, I guess.”

Fifteen minutes later she was on the road again, Wayne following her as he’d promise.

“You’re right. She’s a bugger,” he’d admitted. “I’ll follow as long as I can back towards town in case this one blows.”

Two exits before her own, Wayne flashed his lights. She saw him wave as he pulled off the exit, so she gave her horn a couple sharp “thank yous” and hoped he heard. Most of the time she used a fictional husband to keep mechanics (and electricians and plumbers) honest. But Wayne’s quiet smile and the careful way he made his way over made her drop her guard from the first.

“I don’t get it,” she had told him while he worked. “This is the second flat I’ve had in the past month.”

“Probably potholes,” Wayne said.

“Shouldn’t be–I drive to work the same way every day.”

“Well, then, maybe you need to take a different road.”


[The flash fiction “The  Spare”, 2016 draft, appeared first on This Is My Symphony.]

Himself: review

Himself (NetGalley)
Jess Kidd
St. Martin’s Press
release date: March 14, 2017

himselfJess Kidd’s first novel Himself is a poignant and darkly funny story about a Mahony, a n’er-do-well Dubliner, who travels clear across the island to the idyllic village of Mulderrig to discover what happened to the mammy who (apparently) abandoned him on the steps of an orphanage when he was still a babe in arms and left without a trace. When an aged nun dies she leaves behind an envelope for Mahony with a photo of his mom Orla holding baby Francis–his given name. On the back is penciled “Know that your mammy loved you.”

But the quaint village, like small towns all over the world, is a place of rumors and lies and cover-ups. Mulderrig isn’t as innocent as it appears and Mahony soon suspects that his mother, rather than abandoning him, was killed. As Mahony sets about asking questions about Orla, he is greeted with disdain or curiosity, at best, and at worst, hostility. Orla was not a welcomed or respected member of the town. She was the “wild bad girl of the village” with a missing pappy and an drunk mam. By the time she was a teen, the wayward Orla had to survive using whatever means she could. And then there was her baby.

Mahony has the gift of second sight, and Kidd’s description of the world he sees is magical. Ghosts frolic on the lawn, play cards in the parlor, skip through the woods, and drift up to sit on the roof–and the author makes it seem so commonplace. The reader realizes about halfway through the novel, though, that those ghosts are clues. (Clues, I must admit, that this reader couldn’t unravel until the last few pages.)

Add to the other-worldliness of the story living characters who are endearing–or despicable. There’s Mrs. Cauley, the eccentric elderly actress who immediately takes Mahony under her wing; her winsome housekeeper and companion Shauna, who falls quickly under Mahony’s spell. There is a jolly barkeep, an unlikable priest, a grieving young mother, a mysterious recluse …

And darker forces are at work when someone first leaves a plate of poisoned scones for Mahony, then a bomb in the letterbox, and finally tries to bribe him to leave for America.

Kidd’s cast of characters–living and dead–are all brought together as Mahony and Mrs. Cauley stage a play, Hamlet-style, to flush out the killer. And, much like Hamlet there’s a fight, murder, a raving woman who knows the killer, and too many secrets to count.

If you’ve a friend who is a Hibernophile (Did you even know that was a thing?!), Himself would make a perfect St. Paddy’s Day surprise. Pop it in a bright green bag with a bottle of stout, a packet of crisps, and you’ll be fast friends forever.

WWW Wednesday

I’m participating in Taking On a World of Words blog hop this week by answering three Ws: what I’m currently reading, what I just finished reading, and what I think I’ll read next. Comment with your own Ws below, and be sure to hop over to Sam’s blog to connect with other readers on her WWW post.

Release date: March 14, 2017

Currently reading:
I started Himself  by Jess Kidd (NetGalley) last week and it’s taken me to a time and place I’ve never been. Twenty-something Mahoney travels from Dublin to the small village of Mulderrig. He left as an infant, but it’s the circumstances of his leaving that rub. His mother, the village wild thing, disappeared without a trace one day, and Mahoney with her. So how did he end up on the doorstep of a Dublin orphanage? And with a photo of his mum with cryptic note penciled on the back: “Your mammy loved you.” Add to that the fact that Mahoney has a gift: he sees spirits. Right alongside the visible world, Mahoney sees ghost figures walking about, lingering nearly everywhere. Mahoney sets out to uncover the mystery of his mother’s disappearance with the help of an elderly eccentric Mrs. Cauley. The duo is sure to make friends and enemies, in the village and the spirit world, is my guess.

Release date: April 11, 2017

Recently finished:
The last book I finished was Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic which really resonated with me. I’m lucky in that the writer’s studio I attend has a facilitator who believes in the serendipity of creativity, so the book itself was more gift than revelation. I’ve read some pretty harsh review of Big Magic (can you say New York Times?), but I think even the first few chapters are worth the price of the book.

Reading next:
I’ve been waiting for how many years for this one? Let’s see. The Historian was published in 2005, so that would make it an even dozen. Elizabeth Kostova’s new novel The Shadow Land is due to be released in April. The story is set in Sofia, Bulgaria once again, and from the publisher’s blurb, it includes an urn, some ashes, mystery, and danger. I’m taking bets on whether or not Vlad will make a reappearance in this novel. I can’t get to this one soon enough.   

Work has been busy (we’re mid-marking period, and I just collected an essay!) so I’m behind on my List; the sad fact is reading slows down considerably during the school year. The struggle is real, my friend. But thanks to Taking On the World Of Words and Sam for allowing me to tag  blog along every few Wednesdays.

Flash Fiction Friday

Green is my heartThe rug was rolled and pushed with the bed up against the far wall. A chest of drawers sat catty-corner the door,  drawers emptied. She hadn’t painted a room since they tried to sell the house after the kids left for school, so she poured the paint into the tray with a too-quick slosh. Dipping the roller she started laying on wide swaths.
The latex stung her nose and made her eyes water. She reached and stretched and bent and dipped. The gray walls disappeared more quickly–and easily–than she had imagined.
“Prickly pear” the paint chip said. She hadn’t bothered with any other paint swatches once she read the name. Just the shade for a fresh start.
A roll up for all the times he’d slept at the office.
Down again for the nasty voice mails.
Another roll for bottles stashed behind the nightstand.
Back again for the smell of Listerine.
“Prickly pear” they called it. Prickly for her heart. Pears–unripe and bitter–for the leaving. And the paint fumes made her eyes tear again, just a little.

[The flash fiction “Green is my heart”, 2017 draft, appeared first on This Is My Symphony.]