“Everything breaks if you hit it hard enough”:
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
Do you believe in destiny, or fate that controls people’s lives? Why is it that some people can live “normal” “happy” lives, while others have to endure unfortunate circumstances and accidents that change their lives upside-down?
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti tells a story of Samuel Hawley, and his daughter, Loo. Their story does not start on a good note, and only gets worse as it goes on. Hawley and Loo have been constantly on the run, and Loo does not know why. There are many things Loo does not know about her past, including who her mother was, what she was like, and how she died. She does know that there are twelve scars on her father’s body from bullet wounds, and that he does not want to talk about them with her.
At one point, Hawley is by himself at a motel while his daughter is staying at her grandmother’s house. The narrator says:
The room was splattered with red. What a mess he’d made, Hawley thought. He wished he could erase his entire life, starting with his father’s death and then every step that had led him here to this crap motel room, every bullet, every twisted turn of the road he’d followed — even meeting Lily, even having Loo. Hawley wanted it all gone. (321)
It was painful to read this scene, including what followed before and after. As a reader, I completely understand why Hawley wishes he could erase his entire life. By erasing his life, Hawley wants to erase all of his faults. But I wonder how valid it would be to blame Hawley for everything that happened. For me, Hawley seems more of a victim of the events that happened, rather than the perpetrator. There must have been moments in the beginning when Hawley could have stopped, but who is to say that things would have been different for Hawley afterward? I wonder if things happened to Hawley because (maybe) that was his fate. While my life is so painfully normal, Hawley’s life has never been normal. By the time Loo grows up to be a young woman, the life that she and her father lead is filled with so many secrets and history that they seem to live in a world completely of their own.
Later in the book, Loo says to Hawley, “This isn’t your fault, Dad” (338). To which Hawley responds, “It is…Everything that’s happened and is happening and is going to happen” (338).
Loo wants her father to know that she doesn’t blame him, but Hawley already blames himself for everything, as he has been doing so for many years. That is exactly why Hawley is now trying to fix things. I wonder who is more right in this conversation. I think Loo is right in that, sometimes, things just happen in life that we do not and cannot anticipate. But as Hawley says, we do hold responsibility over the choices we make in life, and these choices in turn cause consequences. But could Hawley’s life – and Loo’s life as a result – have been different?
Earlier in the book, when Loo realizes that she and her father have to move once again, she goes to pick up her last paycheck at the Sawtooth. There she meets Gunderson, who, back when he was young, had been in love with Loo’s mother. As the narrator describes:
The paper was heavy and thick beneath her fingers, like an announcement or an invitation.
(Loo) “I didn’t mean to screw everything up.”
(Gunderson) “Nobody ever does.” (337)
Gunderson also gives Loo an extra $100, almost as though he is giving her a blessing before she and her father set off once more on the road.
And Gunderson is right. Nobody ever means to screw up. Including Hawley, and including us.
Tinti, Hannah. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley: A Novel. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.