Review: The Descendants

Review: The DescendantsThe Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
Published by Random House on May 15, 2007
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 283
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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Narrated in a bold, fearless, unforgettable voice and set against the lush, panoramic backdrop of Hawaii, The Descendants is a stunning debut novel about an unconventional family forced to come together and re-create its own legacy.

Matthew King was once considered one of the most fortunate men in Hawaii. His missionary ancestors were financially and culturally progressive–one even married a Hawaiian princess, making Matt a royal descendant and one of the state’s largest landowners.

Now his luck has changed. His two daughters are out of control: Ten-year-old Scottie is a smart-ass with a desperate need for attention, and seventeen-year-old Alex, a former model, is a recovering drug addict. Matt’s charismatic, thrill-seeking, high-maintenance wife, Joanie, lies in a coma after a boat-racing accident and will soon be taken off life support. The Kings can hardly picture life without her, but as they come to terms with this tragedy, their sadness is mixed with a sense of freedom that shames them–and spurs them into surprising actions.

Before honoring Joanie’s living will, Matt must gather her friends and family to say their final goodbyes, a difficult situation made worse by the sudden discovery that there is one person who hasn’t been told: the man with whom Joanie had been having an affair, quite possibly the one man she ever truly loved. Forced to examine what he owes not only to the living but to the dead, Matt takes to the road with his daughters to find his wife’s lover, a memorable journey that leads to both painful revelations and unforeseen humor and growth.

Recommended by: Kara (Great Imaginations)

When Kara put this in my Sadie Hawkins list, I’d never heard of it. In fact, I didn’t know it was a thing I should have been aware of until Tuesday when I mentioned it to Gillian (Writer of Wrongs) and she went on about a movie. So apparently this is a thing with a fanbase and I can see where it’s all literary and stuff, but it really just wasn’t my type of book.

Reading The Descendants reminded me why I got kind of tired of adult fiction and why YA makes up such a big portion of what I’m reading right now. So much adult fiction is like this: adults in unhappy marriages, dying of diseases, fucking up their children, and cheating on each other. Maybe when I’m older, I’ll appreciate this stuff, but mostly it just leaves me bored and/or angry. In this case, it was just the former, but that’s still not a great way to feel about a book. I’m chronically single and my family didn’t go through any of the stuff depicted in The Descendants, so I really couldn’t relate to it or care.

Also problematic for me was the first person narration of Matt King. He’s sort of funny sometimes, but mostly he’s incredibly disconnected from his life. The point of it all is that he’s coming out of that, starting to notice his family for the first time in ages now that his wife is in a coma. Even at his most emotional, Matt King reminds me heavily of a Hemingway main character. He’s so relaxed about things. He’ll get himself worked up to do something and then end up shrugging it off and not bothering. If he can’t be bothered to feel intense emotions about his wife’s infidelity and death, then neither can I.

Speaking of his wife, the whole thing is centered around her death. It’s supposed to be a sad event, I imagine, but the novel didn’t give me enough context to truly care about her. She’s never on screen. There are no flashbacks to happy moments and the commentary offered on her makes her sound like a horrible mother and a vain woman. The Descendants is trying to tug on my heartstrings, but it’s missing.

The plot line associated with Matt interacting with his two daughters, who he’s lived with but not seen was the one aspect I did enjoy, aside from the writing which is pretty. The scene stealer was actually Sid, Alex’s friend who she sometimes hooks up with. It’s interesting to watch Matt try to figure out the parenting thing, and I think he does a surprisingly good job feeling it out after his years of neglect.

There you go, Kara. I don’t remember whether you thought I was going to like this, but I imagine so. Sorry, friend, if that was the case. I do think the writing’s pretty and the setting is awesome, though not enough of the focus, but I couldn’t handle the melodrama, because emotionless melodrama makes no sense to me.

Favorite Quote:

I hate get-well cards. It’s like telling someone to have a safe flight. There’s really not a whole lot you can do.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

face punch

Up Next:

Hush, Hush - Becca Fitzpatrick

The next Sadie Hawkins Sunday book was going to be Viral Nation by Shaunta Grimes, which was recommended to me by Alessandra (Out of the Blue), but it turns out that my library doesn’t have it, and the Kindle file I thought I had from NetGalley doesn’t work for some reason. That means Hush, Hush is next week. Three (THREE!!!) cruel souls commanded me to read this one: Sophie, Cris & Mara. This will surely get me into the holiday spirit.

Want to tell me what to read? Fill out the following form with a suggestion! For more details, check this post.

3 responses to “Review: The Descendants”

  1. Sorry you couldn’t connect to this one, Christina. I wouldn’t say it’s one of my favorite books, but I did give it 5 stars due to characterizations and writing.

    If I remember correctly, I don’t think you were supposed to actually like the wife. She cheated on her husband and was a pretty awful wife and mother, all around. The emotion for me came from her family realizing, and particularly, Matt, how relieved they were that she was not around. The family dynamic was changing, and he was learning how to become a decent father for his girls. The wife was really toxic in all of their lives. And for me, I felt REALLY conflicted as a reader, because who is better off without a mother/wife in their lives?

    Anyway, that’s why I loved it so much. Because it was a thinking book. But I guess if you couldn’t relate to anything, it makes sense that you wouldn’t connect with that story.
    Kara @ Great Imaginations recently posted…Book Review of World After by Susan EeMy Profile

  2. “So much adult fiction is like this: adults in unhappy marriages, dying of diseases, fucking up their children, and cheating on each other.” Oh my gosh, yes! That’s it! That’s why I tend to not to enjoy adult books too. I’ve been heavy on the YA this year and that statement is exactly why.

    So funny…I bought Hush, Hush and it’s sequel this weekend and when taking it out of the bag, thought “why did I buy this?” LOL. Hope it works for you!
    Dana (Little Lovely Books) recently posted…Adding to the Stacks #11My Profile

  3. Jessie says:

    I am not surprised that this book is not good. I saw the movie after it was nominated for absolutely everything and everyone loved Shailene Woodley and… mmm.. Well, yah. It wasn’t a great movie and I didn’t think the source material was all that original.

    Adult titles can be such a drag. I never thought about WHY I liked reading YA so much more but that makes sense. There’s more exploration of topics than the same basic plotlines/ideas/etc. I think they can be done well (like Revolutionary Road) but a lot of adult books are serious for the point of being serious and Saying Important Things about Life.

    I haven’t read enough Hemingway to judge if Matt is like his characters, but the way you describe his narration is a big no-no for me. Even if I did like the movie, I don’t think that this would be a book for me.

    The point about the mother is accurate for both versions. I HATED that we never got her story or her side or even saw her in the movie. It frustrates me more than she’s a complete nonentity in the book even. Ugh.

    I’ll pass on this one. Great review, though, Christina. You definitely saved me some time and money here.
    Jessie recently posted…Review: The Promise of Amazing by Robin ConstantineMy Profile

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