The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
A well written and somewhat heartbreaking story that explores how we understand our relationships. It’s also a film.
Matt King is descended from Hawaiian royalty and one of Hawaii’s largest land owners. His wife, Joanie, was injured in a sailing accident and will soon be taken off life support. Matt will be left with the care of his two daughters, Alex, 17, and Scottie, 10.
Matt decides to give his wife’s friends and family a chance to say goodbye and in the process finds out that his wife had been having an affair. He decides to find her lover, so that he can let him have a proper goodbye.
Matt is an interesting character. He’s well-meaning, but as his wife has taken care of their kids all his life, he has no idea what to do and is somewhat shocked at how different they are from what he perceives them to be. He has no idea how to be a parent, despite being a parent for almost 18 years. The book, to me, is less about his wife’s affair, but more about Matt’s relationships, especially with his daughters, and how his journey to find his wife’s lover turns into a journey for his own growth.
Matt spends a lot of his time floundering around and thinking. You can tell he’s a very competent person—he’s good at his job as a lawyer and, despite being descended from Hawaiian royalty, he uses the money he earns at his profession and is fairly well off. Despite all this, he’s aware that he’s in over his head as he starts to figure out what was going on around him while he was busy doing whatever it was he was doing. He honestly loves his wife, and as he hears that she’s had an affair, it’s almost as if you can see him blink and go, ‘Oh, really?’
This is a character-driven story. Matt’s daughters, Alex, tough but loyal, and Scottie, in the throes of tweenhood, are sketched so well. The dialogue is flowing and rich and you can see how they try to rebuild their family from what they have now. It’s a little bit heartbreaking to see them learn to let their mother go and Kaui Hart Hemmings does a good job of portraying them without making them sound unrealistic or too adult-like.
As for the affair, I won’t say anything more than Matt does find him, but what happens next is what you need to read the book—or see the movie!—for.
This story could have turned out so differently. I didn’t intend to read it—it’s now a movie with George Clooney—but I picked it up at a bookstore and was immediately drawn by the writing. I finished it in a day. I enjoyed the flowing prose, the language and the way the characters unfolded and came into their own.
Yay or nay?
This book is for people who enjoy character-driven stories. More than anything, this book is about relationships—whether they are really present or only perceived to be. I really enjoyed it.
Who might enjoy it: People who like to read the book before the movie
Who might not enjoy it: People who would rather see George Clooney