The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti is one of those books where the words on the page disappear. It is not about beautiful turns of phrase or elegant sentences, but about story. Generally, this is not my preference (as evidenced by the fact that next to nothing ever happens in my own writing in terms of plot—everything is at the sentence level) but I completely loved The Good Thief. It manages to be extremely literary despite its disappearing words.
Ms. Tinti accomplishes this feat by creating an incredibly smart narrative. Each and every detail she lays down works double-time; there is no wasted space. There is a page-turning story going on here, replete with orphans, missing limbs, whaling towns, ale houses, grave-robbing, un-dead good-hearted murderers, dwarves on roofs, resurrection men, a mousetrap factory populated only by ugly girls—a total Gothic extravaganza—but nothing is gratuitous. All of the plot lines service each other and you can bet if you see a seemingly throw-away detail on page ten, it will be revealed as important on page one hundred and ten. In this way, Ms. Tinti’s background in short stories, both as a writer of them and as editor-in-chief of One Story, which publishes nothing but, is revealed. She uses the space a novel offers to its best advantage, but she also employs the economy of a short story writer to keep the narrative tight.
This book should be a big “take-that” to everyone who won’t publish first time novelists right now. It’s intelligent escapism—and isn’t this the perfect moment for it?