Last month I posted a mini-interview with Kent, and now here’s a short talk with Hannah Tinti, whose book Junot Díaz has called “a lightning strike of a novel — beautiful and haunting and ever so bright.” The author is, he says, “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.”
As the editor of One Story, I read a lot of wonderful pieces of writing where nothing happens. In fact, sometimes the writing is so good that it almost tricks you into thinking that something did happen.
I have wide tastes as a reader, but these days I find myself drawn to more traditional story-telling. The kind of books that made me fall in love with reading as a kid, staying up late at night with a flashlight under the covers. So although the concept of The Good Thief was an existential one – exploring death and resurrection, through body, spirit and storytelling — the only way I could think of going about it was a straightforward narrative style. I didnâ€™t know that about Donna Tartt, but I love her work, and can see the influence.
Call me old-fashioned, but there is a reason why these â€œclassicâ€ books have held up. Last year I re-read Stevenson for the first time since I was a kid — Treasure Island, Kidnapped and David Balfour — and was surprised by how incredibly tight the language was, and completely gripping the scenes were. Stevenson was a master at building tension and creating characters with only a few strokes of dialogue. I was just as engaged in the story at age 34 as Iâ€™d been at age 6.
Your title evokes the thief who’s crucified at Jesus’ side. He repents, is forgiven, and receives salvation before he dies. Ren, too, is ultimately redeemed. What other resonances did you intend with the parable? And what relevance do you think these ancient stories have for us now?
The story of The Good Thief is one of redemption at the very last minute, and this holds true in my book — most of the characters find ways to make amends for past wrongs that theyâ€™ve committed, one way or another. I also meant to draw on the theme of sacrifice and resurrection. In a more straight forward interpretation, there is quite a bit of thieving in The Good Thief. Ren takes many things — books and stones and food and toys. Benjamin Nab cons money and horses and jewelry and also other peopleâ€™s trust. All this stealing is really trying to fill up the enormous emotional holes of the characters, and also reflects the other things that have been stolen from them — for Ren, it is not only his physical hand, but also his history, his parents, and any kind of family or love.
As for the relevance of ancient stories — the Bible, myths, Shakespeare or fairy tales — I think that if you want to live an examined life, they can be incredibly important. They are there to help us reflect, and to continue to grasp at those slippery moments of revelation.