Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Descendents

I wanted to see The Descendents when it came out in theaters. I didn’t realize until much later that it was based on a book by the same name. I saw the movie. Then read the book. And unlike most time when I see the movie and read the book, neither was ruined by the other. The movie, in fact, is a very faithful adaptation of the book.

The book is set in Hawaii and is the story of Matt King, his wife Joanie, their daughters, Alex and Scottie, and Alex’s friend Sid. There are other characters that appear, but those are the core characters. The story revolves around Joanie, in the hospital and in a coma from a boating accident. Matt is kind of a hands-off dad. He let his wife do the parenting most of the time. He’s suddenly thrust into a situation where he has to parent. He finds out that his wife was having an affair. He goes looking for the man Joanie was cheating with….

Kaui Hart Hemmings wrote one hell of a book. It’s about so many- things  parenting, loving, anger, forgiveness, goodbyes, death grieving, family, revenge. The book is written from Matt’s perspective. He’s an attorney – I think criminal, only because he mentions a criminal trial – and a native Hawaiian, whose family owns one of the last tracts of undeveloped land. A sub-plot of the book has to do with the pending sale, in which Matt’s vote counts the most. He’s lost. As a man, father, husband, cousin. He’s not afraid to admit he’s lost and inadequate. And I think that’s why I liked him so much. He not only saw his flaws but understood them.

One of Matt’s biggest challenges is with his girls. Alex is picked up from private school and brought home when Matt realizes that Joanie is dying. Alex meets up with her friend Sid. At first, Sid annoyed the crap out of me. A typical stoner teenager. But Sid is actually the lynchpin that holds Matt and the girls together.

I found the story to be touching and powerful. I loved the full development of the characters and the interactions and thoughts that Matt has. His relationship with his father-in-law in particular. The man is a jerk. And Matt takes his abuse. What I really admired about Matt is that while he could have easily done some things that would have caused everyone more pain, he often times thought about that reaction and took the high road. I don’t know, if faced with the same scenarios, I would react with the same aplomb. But Matt manages to stand his ground gracefully.

I loved the words and images in the book. I felt like I was in Hawaii and along for the ride with the characters. I may end up picking this book for my next book club pick. Though it’s not a long book – 283 pages – it resonates with me even after I have finished it. It is FULL of images and themes and discussion points. I highly recommend this book.


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I’m going to admit it up front – I bought this book because of Oprah. Let me back up  a bit. I first heard of the book on the totally AWESOME Books on the Nightstand podcast and blog. But I didn’t buy it until I saw it at Costco (yes, I buy books at Costco. I pretty much buy books everywhere.)

The book is the story of Cheryl Strayed and her decision to hike the Pacific Coast Trail. I actually felt kind of bad because I had no idea that the entire length of California in the Sierra Nevadas has a hiking trail. But then I remembered that I don’t hike so I would have no idea about the trial.

Cheryl lost her mother, and then her family and her marriage fell apart. She went from Minnesota to Portland, Oregon to spend time with a friend and ended up hooking up with a guy and using heroin. And that is when I stopped liking her. For most of the book, I did not like her. I thought she was selfish and self-pitying. Of course, I can say that because I haven’t lost a parent. I also don’t understand how she could be so blase about using heroin. But again, I’ve never done that.

She set out in the Mojave Desert, determined to hike all the way to Oregon alone. She packs her backpack, which she aptly names Monster and begins her adventure. During the course of her hike, she encounters extreme heat (anyone from Fresno can understand that), snow, ice, rattlesnakes, bulls, and creepy mountain dudes. She survives it all and finishes her hike.

I am still – a week later – trying to figure out what it was about Cheryl that I didn’t like. The only answer I can come up with right now is that I’m somewhat jealous. Not of the fact that she hiked the PCT. I’m NOT a camper or hiker. I’m not attracted to not showering for days at a time and camping alone. But. That having been said, I’m jealous of her having the ability to disappear for three months and figure out who she is and what she wants.

The book is well-written. And I liked her ability to describe not only the scenery, but the people she encountered. I could picture them all in my mind’s eye. Her style was down-to-earth and engaging. The only real complaint I have about the book is that I didn’t find her to be that likable. Otherwise, it is a pretty good book.

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Gone Girl

I decided to read Gone Girl after hearing about it on the Books on the Nightstand podcast, which in my opinion is the best podcast ever. Michael Kindness, one of the casters, talked about it. What got me was he said he couldn’t say too much about the plot. I’ll summarize what he said….

Wife goes missing on what would have been her fifth wedding anniversary. Cops starting looking at husband, who, the day she goes missing, says he’s already told the cops five lies to that point. And that is all I will say about the plot.

I thought it was a good book, but it was hard to read in places. Part of my problem is that most of the characters are very unlikable in important ways. But I think that may have been the point.

Nick, the husband is one of those good-looking men who doesn’t have to try very hard. He has a cool job in New York working at a magazine. Then he loses his job. His mother gets cancer and his father Alzheimer’s in Missouri. So he convinces Amy, his cosmopolitan, New York wife, to move with him. They rent a foreclosed McMansion. Nick and his sister, who he calls, Go, his twin, open The Bar using the last of his wife’s trust fund.

Amy parents are psychologists who wrote a series of best-selling children’s books, Amazing Amy. The story is told from two points of view – Nick and Amy. Nick narrates the present and Amy’s diary present her view of the past. The reason I am not saying much about the plot is that there are two very huge plot twists that to talk about, would ruin the book for those who are interested in reading it.

It’s well written and well plotted. My biggest beef with the book is that I didn’t really like any of the characters. ALL of them have serious character flaws that makes it hard to care at the end, what happens to any of them. I did like the fact that Nick and Amy had very distinct voices and very distinct memories and reactions that were different from each other. They were both well-developed, though you end up knowing Amy better by the end. I can’t imagine how hard it is to write in two very different voices. I can see being able to see the events of a marriage differently, but writing it is different. And she does a good job evoking completely different feelings from each one.

On Goodreads, I gave the book three stars. Mostly because it got hard to read in the middle and I really didn’t like the characters. But it was well written and plotted and that’s why I recommend it. That and I REALLY want someone to talk about part 3 with.

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The Hour I First Believed

I just finished this book for the second time. I don’t often re-read books, especially ones this long. Mostly because of time. But my mom picked it for book club and it had been long enough since I read it that I felt I needed to read it again.

The book is about Caleum and Maureen Quirk. When the book opens, they are living in Littleton, Colorado. Caleum is a high school English teacher and his wife a nurse at Columbine High School. They are originally from Connecticut. They left and moved to Colorado because Caleum beat up the guy his wife was having an affair with. Caleum receives a telephone call saying that his aunt, who raised him and who he’s close to, has had a stroke. He gets on a plane and flies to Connecticut.

While he’s in Connecticut, the shooting at Columbine happens. He immediately rushes home to find that his wife was hiding in the cabinets of the library break room while those boys shot and killed people. She is completely traumatized by the events. So much so that Caleum and Maureen move back to Connecticut. Caleum’s aunt has passed and he has to take care of the farm that has been in his family for a century. There’s a prison founded by his great-grandmother across the road from the farm. It’s a women’s prison.

Maureen has terrible PTSD and does not seek treatment immediately for her problem. As a result, she develops an addiction to Xanax. She is sober for a long time and working at a nursing home. Her favorite patient dies and she is accosted by a drunk who gets into the home. It triggers a flashback. She injects Ativan and starts a downward spiral. She gets high one night and on the drive home, and hits and kills a young kid. She is arrested and sentenced to five years in prison – at the Quirk Correctional Facility. The prison presents all kinds of challenges for her.

Meanwhile, Caleum is teaching at a community college and helping his friend, Alphonse, run his family’s bakery. He takes in Hurricane Katrina survivors as boarders at the farm house. He works and lives and eventually has a one-night stand with the female border. Velvet, the troubled student from Colorado shows up. I don’t want to give much more of the plot away.

If you are unfamiliar with Wally Lamb, his books can be a bit….thick. He writes in lawyers and you have to pay attention to things or they pass you by. What I liked about this book is he just keeps at you. There is a barrage of things and just when you think another thing can’t happen – it does. What I didn’t like about the book was that it was really hard to like most of the main characters.

Maureen needs to be in rehab. While I realize that you cannot force someone to admit their addiction and get help, you can stop enabling them. And Caleum keeps enabling her. Caleum is another problem. I wanted to like him so badly, but there are so many parts of him that are unlikable. However. That is human nature. To really know a person is to know them faults and all. And with Caleum we get his inner being along with that – something we don’t normally get from other people. I suppose that means that you have to remember were this real life, you wouldn’t know as much about him as you do and that may make him infinitely more likeable as a person.

Overall, it’s a good book. I have read it twice now and I don’t usually re-read books. It’s long – over 600 pages so be ready to heft a big one around with you. But it is worth the read.

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