Wednesday, August 29, 2012

THE DESCENDANTS by Kaui Hart Hemmings

I haven't seen the movie, but I can see why this book was made into one.  Matt King is a mostly inattentive father whose wife is now in the hospital from a boat racing accident.  We learn a lot about Joanie from Matt's and his daughters' reminiscences, and I expect readers either love her or hate her.  I fall into the latter category.  She's a department store model, obsessed with her looks, who competes with her daughters, drinks late into the night in bars, and engages in high risk activities.  One of them is an affair, reported by the older daughter, Alex, to her clueless father, who now starts to wonder what he should have done differently to keep his wife from straying.  His 10-year-old daughter, Scottie, is sending hurtful texts to a classmate, and Alex, found drunk and out past curfew at her boarding school are clearly out of control as well.  It's hard to ascertain whether Joanie is a good mom and the girls are just acting up due to her absence and uncertain prognosis, or if this behavior is the norm.  We suspect the latter, given that Alex's substance abuse is the reason she's in boarding school in the first place.  Matt definitely has his hands full and doesn't know where to start.  Plus, he's hurt and angry about his wife's affair.  In walks Sid, a friend of Alex's, who obviously has issues of his own, but he serves as sort of an impartial moderator—a role for which he is probably ill-equipped, given that he has been banished from his mother's house.  He's a trip, though, and unknowingly spreads comic relief all over the pages.  A series of darkly hilarious events unfold, as Matt grapples with how to approach his wife's lover with the news that Joanie is being taken off life support.  The scene in which he finally does have that uncomfortable conversation, making the man squirm, is just splendid and seems to be the pivotal moment in which Matt takes control and shows us what he's made of.

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