The daughter of a career criminal explores her family’s past along with the family business.
Loo, the hero of Tinti’s second novel (The Good Thief, 2008), has spent much of her childhood living out of a suitcase with her father, Samuel, who helps steal and fence jewelry and antiques. Her mom, Lily, died under vague circumstances shortly after Loo was born, but her presence has been constant: Dad places mementos of her every place they’ve lived. So when their travels bring them to the Massachusetts fishing town where Lily grew up, it’s time for a reckoning. Loo spends her adolescence there drawing from dad’s tough-guy playbook, breaking the finger of a boy who crosses her and learning how to shoot guns and hot-wire cars. Those present-day chapters are interwoven with scenes from Samuel’s criminal past—the “lives” of the title refer to the number of times he’s been shot, and Tinti wittily explores each bullet for alternately comic, tragic, and thriller-ish effects. We wear our emotional pains and struggles in our bodies, Tinti means to argue, and scene to scene the novel is graceful and observant. But a dozen bullet wounds also represents a lot of metaphorical heavy lifting in addition to the other overt symbols that lard the narrative (watches, gloves, disorienting carnival rides, a whale, etc.), and at times such detail overshadows Loo’s budding relationship and push and pull with Lily’s mother; a subplot involving a petition to stop overfishing gets short shrift. The novel is at its strongest when it focuses on Sam and Lily or Loo, whether they’re getting out of scrapes or plotting their next move. But for a story about a man who has to travel light, it carries plenty of baggage.
An accomplished if overstuffed merger of coming-of-age tale and literary thriller.