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The Good Thief: A Novelby Hannah Tinti
Synopses & Reviews
Richly imagined, gothically spooky, and replete with the ingenious storytelling ability of a born novelist, The Good Thief introduces one of the most appealing young heroes in contemporary fiction and ratifies Hannah Tinti as one of our most exciting new talents.
Twelve year-old Ren is missing his left hand. How it was lost is a mystery that Ren has been trying to solve for his entire life, as well as who his parents are, and why he was abandoned as an infant at Saint Anthony's Orphanage for Boys. He longs for a family to call his own and is terrified of the day he will be sent alone into the world.
But then a young man named Benjamin Nab appears, claiming to be Ren's long-lost brother, and his convincing tale of how Ren lost his hand and his parents persuades the monks at the orphanage to release the boy and to give Ren some hope. But is Benjamin really who he says he is? Journeying through a New England of whaling towns and meadowed farmlands, Ren is introduced to a vibrant world of hardscrabble adventure filled with outrageous scam artists, grave robbers, and petty thieves. If he stays, Ren becomes one of them. If he goes, he's lost once again. As Ren begins to find clues to his hidden parentage he comes to suspect that Benjamin not only holds the key to his future, but to his past as well.
"Set in New England, presumably in the 19th century, Tinti's Disney-ready first novel (after story collection Animal Crackers) follows one-handed orphan Ren's not quite rags-to-riches tale. Ren, with his love for religion and penchant for thievery, is immediately likable, and when rugged, tall-tale spinning con man Benjamin Nab strolls into Ren's orphanage one day and claims Ren as his brother, it seems too good to be true, and it is. Benjamin, along with boozy partner-in-crime Tom, lead Ren throughout New England, using the endearing, crippled orphan to 'open doors' and make their hustling life easier. When they finally end up in North Umbrage, a town that looms large in Benjamin's past, the trio's luck dries up, and Ren must decide who he can trust and what he is willing to sacrifice in order to have this family. For a novel full of scams, shams and underhanded deals and populated by hustlers, thieves and grave robbers, the sense of menace is muted, but as an adventure yarn with YA crossover appeal, it's tough to beat." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
It may be too quaint to imagine there are still families reading aloud together at night (so many Web sites, so little time), but if you're out there, consider Hannah Tinti's charming first novel. Set in the dark woods of 19th-century New England, "The Good Thief" follows a bright, one-handed orphan through enough harrowing scrapes and turns to satisfy your inner Dickens. That Tinti is the young co-founder... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) and editor of super-hip One Story magazine makes the arrival of this old-fashioned adventure all the more surprising. Her hero is a tender but wary 12-year-old named Ren, who's lived in the Saint Anthony's orphanage since he was dropped off during the night as an infant. Every few months, he and his buddies line up for anyone who might want a child or a cheap laborer. The boys know that if they don't get adopted by neighborhood farmers they'll eventually be consigned to the army and certain death. But who would want a one-handed child? Ren's plight is creaky with sentimentality, but Tinti knows how to keep her balance as she steps through these hoary conventions of Victorian melodrama. By the time she finishes describing Ren's little collection of stolen objects and his muted despair, I wanted to sign the adoption papers myself. But, of course, someone does come for him, just as he's always dreamed. His long-lost brother, Benjamin Nab, has been looking for Ren since their father took them West. Their family was attacked by Indians, Benjamin tells the priest, and in the heat of combat, Ren's mother accidentally chopped off his hand. Benjamin saved his baby brother, passed him along to travelers, and then went back to exact revenge on those Indians. Naturally, nothing about Benjamin's tale is true, but let the adventure begin! The key to Tinti's success with this novel is the constant tension between tenderness and peril, a tension that she ratchets up until the final pages. Ren suspects he's been adopted under false pretenses, and, what's worse, as they leave Saint Anthony's, he learns that Benjamin picked him because his handicap is just the right prop for his new guardian's treacly lies and con games. "That hand of yours is going to open wallets faster than any gun," Benjamin brags as they set off into the forest looking for soft hearts. "Sometimes Benjamin repeated the story of their mother and the Indian," Tinti writes. "Other times it was a lion who'd eaten Ren's hand, or a snapping turtle as he dangled his fingers in a stream." Indeed, Benjamin's alacrity with a lie is one of the great comic wonders of "The Good Thief." "I understand you've been raised with a different set of rules," Benjamin says, "but if you want to stay alive out here you're going to be forced to break them. Know what you need, and if it crosses your path, take it." Can this scoundrel care for a boy who knows nothing of the world beyond what the priests and the Bible have taught him? Tinti never lets us relax, even as absurdities pile up delightfully. When Benjamin and Ren arrive at the grim, aptly named town of North Umbrage, the story grows both more humorous and more ominous. The town is dominated by a smoke-belching mousetrap factory, staffed by a great army of scurrying young women. Benjamin is nervous about settling here, but he can't resist the lucrative grave-robbing opportunities, which quickly give way to an even richer trade in dead bodies for the local research hospital. Ren finds all this terrifying, and for good reason. What he wants most in the world, though, is a family, and slowly he cobbles together one that includes a friendly giant whose only talent is murdering people, a mysterious dwarf who lives on the roof, and a lonely deaf woman who yells at them constantly. Their antics take place in a slightly surreal world where cause and effect are only tangentially related. Even the story's pacing seems dreamlike, static and panicked at the same time. We never know much more than Ren does about what's happening, but he's deeply serious about learning to do what's right even though everyone around him is engaged in criminal activity of one sort or another. "He could feel God's eye upon him," Tinti writes, "like a pointed stick at the back of his neck." Before this is all over, you can bet there are shocking murders, close scrapes, rooftop chases and last-minute escapes. But what's most enjoyable is watching Tinti draw all these crazy elements together with Ren's destiny. The dark secret of his past could destroy his last chance for happiness, or — just maybe — it could lead to the family he never had. Ron Charles is a senior editor of The Washington Post Book World. He can be reached at charlesr(at symbol)washpost.com. Reviewed by Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[A] moody, twisty, and assured first novel....Tinti secures her place as one of the sharpest, slyest young American novelists. (Grade: A-)" Entertainment Weekly
"Marvelously satisfying...rich with sensory details, surprising twists and living, breathing characters to root for." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"In her highly original debut novel, [Tinti] renders the horrors and wonders she concocts utterly believable and rich in implication as she creates a darkly comedic and bewitching, sinister yet life-affirming tale about the eternal battle between good and evil." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Hannah Tinti has written a lightning strike of a novel — beautiful and haunting and ever so bright. She is a 21st century Robert Louis Stevenson, an adventuress who lays bare her characters' hearts with a precision and a fearlessness that will leave you shaken." Junot Diaz, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
"Every once in a while — if you are very lucky — you come upon a novel so marvelous and enchanting and rare that you wish everyone in the world would read it, as well. The Good Thief is just such a book — a beautifully composed work of literary magic." Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
"[T]he reader can find plain-spoken fiction full of traditional virtues: strong plotting, pure lucidity, visceral momentum and a total absence of writerly mannerisms....Ms. Tinti has a surprising talent of her own. It will interest many." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"The Good Thief's characters are weird and wonderful, its setting and tale every bit as macabre as those in Tinti's short-story collection, Animal Crackers. All of that, along with its humor, ingenuity and fast pace, make The Good Thief compelling." San Francisco Chronicle
"The Good Thief instantly transports us into another time and place and creates adventure without romanticism: no mean feat. Tinti's imaginative powers, as manifested through those of her creation, Ren, reacquaint us with our own. And that's a gift to be cherished by readers of any age." The Boston Globe
"[A] refreshing fairy tale, a delightful piece with both Charles Dickens and J.K. Rowling at heart....The story is whimsical, but the narrative world Tinti paints is complex and full of deception." Philadelphia Inquirer
"Tinti is lavish with her storytelling gifts — which are prodigious....You can't push too hard at the logic of some of the novel's events, but you wouldn't want to: they're there for the mystery, for the beauty and terror of the images, and for the way they appeal to desire in their audience." Maile Meloy, The New York Times Book Review
"Hannah Tinti's novel The Good Thief is wry, wise, deeply felt and ingeniously plotted, a wonderful, riveting spin on the tale of abandoned boys gone bad, or good, or both. Move over Huck Finn and Oliver Twist, make room for Ren, The Good Thief's one handed but quick fingered and witted orphan, thief, hero — I loved him, and his book." Brock Clarke, author of An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England
"The Good Thief is a book that deserves comparison to the work of classic authors like Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickens." Dan Chaon, National Book Award finalist and author of Among the Missing and You Remind Me of Me
"The Good Thief is a magical book. Everything worth writing about is in it: love, death and — more than anything else — family. I wish I'd written it." Daniel Wallace, author of Big Fish and Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician
"This wonderfully old-fashioned novel, rendered with great heart and imagination, demonstrates that Hannah Tinti's talents are as awe-inspiring as the story she tells. Tinti is a formidable writer, and The Good Thief is a stay-up-all-night sort of read." Brady Udall, author of The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint
A Dickensian cast of characters in 19th-century New England comes brilliantly to life in this wondrous debut novel about an orphaned boy and the colorful con man who claims to be his brother.
About the Author
Hannah Tinti's work has appeared in magazines and anthologies, including The Best American Mystery Stories 2003. Her short-story collection, Animal Crackers, has been sold in fifteen countries, and was a runner-up for the PEN/Hemingway Award. She is the editor of One Story magazine.
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