Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book 26: The Descendants

Like probably everyone else, I heard of this novel when I heard about the George Clooney movie, and it just didn't interest me.  I honestly couldn't tell you the last Clooney movie I saw - probably one of the Ocean movies.  He seems like a charming nice guy, but I just don't quite share the same opinion about his appeal as everyone else.  Thus, if anything, Clooney's involvement made me slightly less interested.  After all, it sounded like a simple enough story.  While that is the case, I couldn't believe just how much I enjoyed this novel.  It was just very well-written, very realistic, and it didn't seem like it provided easy answers.  It is obvious how the narrator, Matthew King, has been deluding himself, how he has been an absent father, but he shares enough for the reader to make their own judgements and decisions.  Since I had finished The Tiger's Wife before reading this, I appreciated a narrator and character that I could feel connected to.  While I didn't agree with everything King did or has done, I understood his reactions, I understood him, and I cared for him.
The novel begins in the hospital during a daily visit to the hospital to see Joanie, Matt's comatose wife.  His ten year old daughter Scottie seems afraid of her mom though Matt keeps trying to get Scottie to talk to her.  Joanie, a model, has been the primary care giver and decision maker in her daughters' lives, and Matt has let her call the shots.  Now that he finds himself responsible, he is shocked by Scottie's actions, and also tries to change things.  Alex, his older daughter, is away at boarding school as punishment for a drug problem and due to an argument with Joanie.  The girls portrayed in this novel have issues, and it is clear that they aren't simply the result of a mom in a coma, or being spoiled rich girls.  As the novel reveals more and more about Joanie, the picture is not necessarily flattering.  Her friends and family love her, she was smart, sarcastic, adventurous and beautiful, but it also meant the girls had no idea how to live up to their mother.  After all, her coma is the result of a boat racing accident, another example of Joanie's zest for life.  How does one deal with being plain, or cautious when growing up under a shadow like that?  Matt believes that he and Joanie teased each other a lot, but that they loved each other and that she was self-sufficient.  However, the more the novel reveals, the more it leaves one to wonder how many of her comments were inside jokes and how many were real complaints that Matt ignored.
When Matt finally has to face the idea that Joanie won't recover, he gets Alex out of boarding school, and gathers friends and family.  In this process he makes a discovery about Joanie he has been trying to avoid despite clues.  Amidst all this, Matt also has one big business decision to make.  As a descendant of the last princess of Hawai'i, he and his extended family have owned a large amount of land under a trust, and they now have the option to sell their land and inheritance, leaving the question of who to sell to, and how it will be developed.  Basically, with his wife's coma, Matt is facing decisions and questions involving the future of his family as well as the past and their legacy.  While it is hard to say what will happen to the Kings, it ended on a hopeful note, and left me wanting things to work out for all the characters involved.  I enjoyed the fact that even though Matt was the narrator, the novel provided some other perspectives, and that he included his flaws, giving the reader his view of things but still letting them infer the reality.  I know I'm way behind the crowd on this, but I'd definitely recommend checking this one out.  Maybe I'll even watch the movie now.

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