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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