The Descendants: a Novel Review

The Descendants is wonderfully touching, simple, but also complex in a very human way. Themes explored include love, revenge, trust, people’s impressions of others, and of course family; specifically, how we allow our family blood-line to affect our present day life and choices (those before us, those to come after us).

I’ve been meaning to see the movie with George Clooney that has just hit theaters (Holiday 2011), but when I heard it was a book, and I knew vaguely what it was about, I realized that I should read the book first. I made this decision for very specific reasons. Not all movies would I hold off from seeing just because I discovered they were first novels. I decided to read The Descendants before the movie because, frankly, it reminded me of three other movies about life, love, death, and family, which I watched only but never read. These books were Water For Elephants, The Help, and Up In the Air. Regarding all three of these movies: they are nomination worthy if nothing else, and two of the three books my wife had read and said they were even better. She’s an English teacher so her word is pretty solid. Plus, (and, not to brag) I’ve made her into something of a film buff. Without really forcing her, she’s broadened and strengthened her tastes and understands what to look for and how good story lines should grow and flow.

Even if I read …Elephants, The Help, and Up In the Air, they will not hit me the same way because I am not a “virgin” to their stories. I will have actors and actresses faces in my head; I will constantly compare the versions. What’s been cut out, added, and changed. So, it was with this mindset I decided if I get wind of a particularly enticing tale via movie trailer preview, or if I hear of a movie in the works with a lot of buzz about it being based on a book, I’m reading it first from now on.

Full discolsure: I did have Clooney’s face in my head for the whole book, but that’s the extent of what had been “ruined” for me, if you want to call it that. The book is dry, sad, and real. One of the most B.S.-proof books I’ve read in a while. And I can’t freakin’ believe it is the author’s first novel (K. H. Hemmings), a Hawaiian native. She rocks. Period. This book is visual, sexy, smart, and understated in a beautiful way. Characters actions carry real weight, and while she could dive into any of their heads at any time, which is the easy way out, she mastfully and carefully doles out moments she wants us in Matt King’s head (the main chracter and father of the two daughters). Speaking of them, if you ever saw and enjoyed Little Miss Sunshine or Forgetting Sarah Marshall, parts of this book, while mostly serious, will guarenteed have you laughing out loud. There are some shocking “wow” moments as well, and this is a read for 15-year-olds, as much as 35-year-olds, as much as 70-year-olds. The ten- and eighteen-year olds are charming and three dimensional, and the characters actually change, though some a bit more than others. It’s great to watch Matt King — a father who has never really been there to raise his two daughter — being force to do so now that his wife is in a coma. The twist is that she had a secret lover, and Matt now feels he has to take his kids on a trip through friends, islands, old haunts, and relatives to find out what to do now, including a face to face talk with his wife’s lover — once he find him, of course. Great stuff.

It’s a book that young male adults should not brush off as female-oriented, because it is really not. It’s not about being a particular sex and reading this. It’s about being a person and empathizing. Although this is a drama story at heart, 9/10 people are going to laugh, choke up, and recommend this book to others (like I did with the gem of a film Stupid Crazy Love which got nowhere near the praise it deserved when it came out). I bet The Descendants as a film will also have 9/10 people raving, and I encourage you lazy people who don’t want to read the book or hate reading to really try to see the film. I heard great justice was done by the director who offered great fidelity up to the source material.

One of the top ten books I’ve read in twelve months (Jan 2011 – Jan 2012).

If you see this book in a book store, read the first few pages which are littered with snippets of praise from a dozen magazines and newspapers and know that every one of them is 100% true.

4.5/5

MH

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Filed under Academy Awards, Book Reviews, Movie Reviews

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