The Descendants - Kaui Hart Hemmings
As I look back at my choice of buying this book, I think that I made an odd and pretty out of character decision when I purchased this book. This is a book about a father trying to understand his teenage and his ten-year-old daughters. Definitely not my usual thing, if I have a thing when it comes to the stories that I usually gravitate to.

Well, this book isn't usual or what you'd expect. The descendants of Hawaiian royalty now hold the rights to some of the last untouched land on the Islands and none of them seem to have any noble ideas about what to do with this crucial last piece of true Hawaiian land. Although this should be the most important thing going on in the life of the family that was lucky enough to get the bulk of the voting power towards what would happen to this land, the Kings (oh how symbolic) are going through a major and more personal crisis of their own. Everyone is on the edge of their seats, wondering what will happen to this so very important piece of land, and Matthew King, the patriarch of the fractured King household, is in the process of waiting for his wife, Joanie, to arise or to sink into the coma that she has fallen into. Joanie lies in a hospital bed following a major accident that occurred during a boating race, and has lied in a coma for twenty-three days by the time the beginning of the narrative begins.

This situation is already a confusing one - should Matt be waiting for his wife to die, or should he be unwavering in his belief that she will soon come back, most likely in a fractured state?
This is more confusing when it is taken into consideration that Matt has long suspected that his free-spirited wife has surely cheated on him, as evidenced by an odd and intimate calling card that he had once found in her possession and that she has left behind two girls who grew up, under the bad influence of their mother, who treated them more like peers than her children. Mind you, this is just what we learn about Matt and his family in the beginning of the book, much of it in the first ten pages of the book.

Matt King seems to actively seek a way to heal himself and his children, and there is a lot of dark comedy that comes when this long absent father gets a good look at the children that he has, really, neglected. Any sort of "healing" that he feels is necessary is going to be worse than an uphill battle - some wounds simply won't heal once they've been inflicted, and this applies to a lot of what occurs in the course of this story. I really liked that about this story, frankly; real life doesn't have neat ties that come together to make an impenetrable seal of happy. Expecting someone who has gone through severe trauma or someone who loathes someone else to just get over it is unrealistic and it's kind of offensive. It's a part of the human experience to be complex; human beings are not mysteries that can be solved.

Another thing I liked about this story was that sometimes you hated the characters, in much the same way that you sometimes hate your friends and your family. What helps in fostering this feeling in this book is the way that the characters unexpectantly and yet consistently have major and minor ups and downs that make them more and more human the more you get to know them. If only because of her finesse at crafting such powerful characters, Hemmings is a skilled author.

A major downside that I felt in this book was the passivity of Matthew, who seemed to be surrounded by strong personalities and yet seemed to have none for himself. Even if it was intentional, his wife, who is in a coma, left more of an impression on me than a fully responsive, grieving husband and father did. He was most interesting when he finally seemed to feel real emotion in the heights of his anger.