Despite the way it appears, I don’t often cry while reading. In fact before I read Atonement, I could only think of two other books that made me cry. And now, here I am two months into 2008 and I’ve already cried twice while reading.
You might think it’s because I’ve gone soft. But you’d be wrong. It’s because I keep reading beautifully written, moving books. This time it was Kaui Hart Hemmings’ The Descendants.
I was pretty stoked to read The Descendants because it was based on my favorite short story of 2004, “The Minor Wars.” Thankfully, the novel does not disappoint. For a little bit in the middle I was worried, but the ending is perfect and true and makes the meandering well worth enduring.
The plot revolves around Matt King a Hawaiian lawyer with two daughters and a wife lingering in a coma between life and death. Matt finds out that his wife, Joanie, isn’t going to recover, and because she has a living will they’ll be taking her off of life support. Matt sets out to tell all the people in Joanie’s life that they better get over there to say their goodbyes. Along the way Matt finds out some secrets about his wife that would have been better going with her to her grave.
Oh and as if that’s not enough to deal with he, has to figure out how to be a parent to his daughters one a rebellious teenager and one a weird ten year old.
So the whole premise is fraught with drama right? It’s great because it makes you want to turn every single page as soon as you can. None of the tensions or conflicts in the book feel forced or melodramatic at all, which is amazing if you really think about it. Hemmings handles it all so well.
What I loved the most about this book was how Matt had to struggle with his grief over losing his wife and his anger at her betrayals. It’s very good reading to see him swing from one extreme to the next. I kind of have a big, fat crush on the imaginary Matt King. The character was so flawed in a way that felt really genuine. I really want to lick him.
And now that I think about it, what really is a feat, is how Hemmings’ made Joanie, the woman in the coma, such a full-bodied and vibrant character without relying heavily on flashback. You get to know Joanie mostly through the other characters. It’s really pretty rad.
The scene where Matt finally says goodbye to his Joanie will break your heart. I guarantee it.
So, as an aside, I discovered this morning that the hardcover edition of Hemmings’ short story collection The House of Thieves is on sale for only $4.99. Holy shit! And it includes the story “Minor Wars” which is totally worth the $4.99 alone. Go get it!