This is a post in my 50 Nifty series, in which I’m reading through 50 books that embody each of the 50 United States. Find out why I’m doing this and which books I’m reading when (so you can read along) by checking out my first 50Nifty post, or else browse all 50Nifty posts by clicking here!
The Descendants, Kaui Hart Hemmings
My first encounter with Kaui Hart Hemmings’ The Descendants was seeing the 2011 movie version with George Clooney as the narrator, Matthew King. King lives in modern-day Hawaii and in the opening chapters of the book reminds the readers that the state, while beautiful, is not exempt from misfortune and that those who live there go through the same struggles and trials that burden people in the rest of the country. King himself spends the book narrating the several life-changing events that have converged in a few-week timespan for his family and him.
I really like how the book interweaves more than just one storyline, because that’s how our lives are, isn’t it? We often can’t give all the attention we want to a particular circumstance because there’s another one that demands some of that attention. Not only is King dealing with the aftermath of his wife being involved in a boating accident, but he is also trying to pay attention to and work on his relationships with his two daughters, as well. On top of all of this, King’s extended family is on the cusp of a major turning point in a family matter dealing with virgin Hawaii land that the family owns.
I listened to this as an audiobook while riding the el, walking around the city, and running on the treadmill, and it lent itself well to that format (not all books do). But I will say that I may actually like the movie version more. It stays relatively true to the events of the book (King’s wife’s name change notwithstanding), and the casting directors of the movie were spot on, so many of the things Hemmings has to describe about the characters can actually be shown more easily on screen by the actors portraying them. (Aside: the movie is justifiably rated R for language, just FYI.)
This is a perfect book for Hawaii on the 50Nifty list. Not only is the land itself a source of nostalgia and controversy in the book, but the stereotypes about Hawaii as perpetual paradise are challenged in a sobering way, reminding readers of their common humanity.
(A fun note: my in-laws are in Hawaii as I write this, so it was fun reading this book and imagining what their trip might be like. My mother-in-law has been reading along with me this year in the 50Nifty project, too, which has been a blast! She read The Descendants a few weeks ago and took Michener’s Hawaii–which I’ve not read–with her to the islands, so I’ll have to ask which she thinks deserves a spot on the list.)