Beth Bonini's Reviews > The Descendants

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
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Feb 04, 12

Read in February, 2012 — I own a copy

I saw the film last night, and read the novel today. Couldn't put it down.

I like that order to things: film, and then novel. If I've liked the characters/story (in the film), I like to go to the book because I'm sure to find more detail and more emotional analysis/insight there. And that was certainly the case with this novel. While the film was really faithful to the novel, OF COURSE there is always going to just be MORE of everything in a book. What you particularly get more of in this book is insight into the character of Joanie (the wife who is in a coma, and then dies). But you also get a much richer insight to Matt (the husband) as he careers from one shock and emotional blow to the next. I thought that the complexity of Matt's range of emotion was so spot-on. The fact that he is an emotionally inarticulate person just made his plight more interesting to me. The characters in this book are far from perfect or noble; the writer doesn't even try to make them lovable. And yet they were lovable; to me, anyway. They were terribly, believably flawed. Hemmings has a real gift for dialogue, too -- although the children/teens are astonishingly foul-mouthed at times. (There are some interesting insights for the parents of my generation. I'm thinking of that scene in which Matt bemoans the fact that his children act like they don't even respect him . . . and there is a crushing silence.)

Although there are moments of absurdity and bleak humour, this is mostly grim subject matter . . . but it suits my present mood and circumstances. Death and infidelity and inheritance have an interesting and original specificity in this story -- I was really interested in the setting of contemporary Hawaii, and the various ways in which it plays out in the story -- and yet the universality of those subjects made this story really resonate with me.
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