The Good Thief
by Hannah Tinti

Kathy Discusses This
Example of Dark Fiction

Writers can’t be people-pleasers or they’d never get the first word on the page. That may seem counter-intuitive. After all, writers write to be read by people. So don’t they have to please people? Ultimately, perhaps. But pleasing comes in many forms and the worse kind is fear-based. For writers staring at a page that suddenly looks like a half-empty cup, the insidious whisper of fear sounds like, “No, no, no, you can’t write that!”

Writing fiction requires bravery, especially if you are writing dark fiction. The phrase, courage of your convictions, pretty much sums it up. A writer gets an idea for a story. She realizes that if she writes this story, her characters will do certain things that may be unappealing (or unseemly or unforgiveable). She wavers, pulling petals: write it; don’t write it; write it; don’t write it. “Write it,” the final falling petal insists.

Hannah Tinti demonstrated absolute courage of her convictions in her new book The Good Thief. I can only imagine the day she began it. “Let’s see,” she might have thought, “Protagonist--an orphan boy whose hand has been chopped off in infancy, he knows not when, where or by whom. Initial setting—A poor orphanage, named St. Anthony’s -- the patron saint of lost things, run by a priest who has a whipping stool for disobedient boys. Plot--The boy is adopted by a, h’mm, let’s make him a lying grave-robber. And let’s make it a story of loyalty, friendship, love and family.” Now that’s brave. And completely successful.

Using those elements, Ms. Tinti’s book entertains from page one. There are no false, pretty details to lighten the darkness, only the youth of the hero to give us necessary hope. There are real losses: a boy’s hand, parents, friends, comfort, love and memories. But there is goodness, too. The title is all the hint you need.

Ms. Tinti did not tell this story. Her characters did. They made choices that left me pleading, “Oh, don’t do that.” But they always did, true to themselves. I forgot Hannah Tinti and gained sympathy for the boy, Ren and the adults Benjamin, Tom and Dolly (a murdering dead man unburied alive). I imagined these lives to be real, so vivid in their strengths and weaknesses. Later characters, Mr. Ginty, of the Mousetrap factory, Mrs. Sands, the deaf landlady, and the dwarf who lived on her roof, supply deeper relationships which make Ren whole.

From the isolation of the orphanage, where it’s every boy for himself, Ren’s wish for family comes true when Benjamin selects him from the raggedy line of yearning boys. But Ren’s imagination had not prepared him for Benjamin’s world. With the help of St. Anthony, an innate faith and a generous spirit Ren masters his motley life and discovers who he really is.

Mo Prefers Lighter Fiction

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