Thursday, March 25, 2010
The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
Last year I read the still-unreviewed book of short stories Animal Crackers by Hannah Tinti and enjoyed it overall. I bought The Good Thief at Unnameable Books the other day, fueled by vague remembrances of good reviews, a bookish companion and the ten bucks burning a hole in my pocket.
I started the book that night and got sucked in immediately. The story is about an orphan named Ren with five sticky fingers and a mysterious past. After years of lining up in front of a sinister statue of St. Anthony for prospective parents looking for a farmhand, a shop boy, or maybe even someone to love, and not being picked, he gets adopted by a man that claims to be his brother and seems especially convinced by Ren’s missing hand.
The Good Thief is an enjoyable ride marred only by Tinti’s protective love of her main character. Firstly, she occasionally imbues him with internal thoughts that a boy who’s rarely seen the outside of a Catholic monastery wall wouldn’t likely have. When he thinks of God, he pictures a “benignly neglectful garden, carefully snipping His roses,” a musing that seems too sophisticated and far from the Catholic indoctrination he received. When he imagines a real home he imagines a set of “good “ dishes, unconvincingly knowing such a thing exists, specifically “white porcelain” and a “small bowl of wildflowers, picked from behind the kitchen door, pink and blue with tiny yellow buttercups.” Apparently, Ren has a flair for fantasy interior design! The few passages like this tore me right out of the story and detracted from Tinti’s otherwise careful rendering of Ren by trying to give him delicateness that just translates into preciousness.
Additionally, as much as no one wants a one-handed orphan boy to suffer extra bad luck, real pain for Ren is necessary to make his story real. His journey is certainly not without pitfalls, but at each tense moment the reader knows that Ren will end up essentially okay through quick thinking, luck, or the mood swings of another character. The circumstance that is supposed to make the ending bittersweet doesn’t quite hit the reader where it hurts, because the blow is weighed down by the sack of coincidences that lead up to it.