Narrated in a bold, fearless, hilarious voice and set against the lush, panoramic backdrop of Hawaii, The Descendants is a stunning debut novel about an unconventional family forced to come together and re-create its own legacy.
Matthew King was once considered one of the most fortunate men in Hawaii. His missionary ancestors were financially and culturally progressive-one even married a Hawaiian princess, making Matt a royal descendant and one of the state's largest landowners.
Now his luck has changed. His two daughters are out of control: Ten-year-old Scottie is a smart-ass with a desperate need for attention, and seventeen-year-old Alex, a former model, is a recovering drug addict. Matt's charismatic, thrill-seeking, high-maintenance wife, Joanie, lies in a coma after a boat-racing accident and will soon be taken off life support. The Kings can hardly picture life without her, but as they come to terms with this tragedy, their sadness is mixed with a sense of freedom that shames them-and spurs them into surprising actions.
Before honoring Joanie's living will, Matt must gather her friends and family to say their final goodbyes, a difficult situation made worse by the sudden discovery that there is one person who hasn't been told: the man with whom Joanie had been having an affair, quite possibly the one man she ever truly loved. Forced to examine what he owes not only to the living but to the dead, Matt takes to the road with his daughters to find his wife's lover, a memorable journey that leads to both painful revelations and unforeseen humor and growth.
From the Hardcover edition.
The Descendants is now a major motion picture.
Hemmings's bittersweet debut novel, an expansion of her first published short story ("The Minor Wars," from House of Thieves and originally published in StoryQuarterly), stars besieged and wryly introspective attorney Matt King, the land-rich descendant of Hawaiian royalty and American missionaries and entrepreneurs. He wrestles with the decision of whether to keep his swath of valuable inherited land or sell it to a real estate developer. But even more critical, Matt also has to decide whether to pull the plug on his wife, Joanie, who has been in an irreversible coma for 23 days following a boat-racing accident. Then Matt finds out that Joanie was having an affair with real estate broker Brian Speer, impelling him to travel with his two daughters--precocious 10-year-old Scottie and fresh from rehab 17-year-old Alex--from Oahu to Kauai to confront Brian. Matt finds out the truth about Joanie and Brian, which influences his decision about what to do with his family's on-the-block land and complicates his plans for Joanie. Matt's journey with his girls forms the emotional core of this sharply observed, frequently hilarious and intermittently heartbreaking look at a well-meaning but confused father trying to hold together his unconventional family. (May)
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May 14, 2007
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Excerpt from The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
the sun is shining, mynah birds are chattering, palm trees are swaying, so what. I'm in the hospital and I'm healthy. My heart is beating as it should. My brain is firing off messages that are loud and clear. My wife is on the upright hospital bed, positioned the way people sleep on airplanes, her body stiff, head cocked to the side. Her hands are on her lap.
"Can't we lay her flat?" I ask.
"Wait," my daughter Scottie says. She takes a picture of her mother, a Polaroid. She fans herself with the photo, and I press the button on the side of the bed to lower my wife's upper body. I release the button when she is almost flat on her back.
Joanie has been in a coma for twenty-three days, and in the next few days I'll have to make some decisions based on our doctor's final verdict. Actually, I'll just have to find out what the doctor has to say about Joanie's condition. I don't have any decisions to make, since Joanie has a living will. She, as always, makes her own decisions.
Today is Monday. Dr. Johnston said we'll talk on Tuesday, and this appointment is making me nervous, as though it's a romantic date. I don't know how to act, what to say, what to wear. I rehearse answers and reactions, but I've nailed only the lines that respond to favorable scenarios. I haven't rehearsed Plan B.
"There," Scottie says. Her real name is Scottie. Joanie thought it would be cool to name her after Joanie's father, Scott. I have to disagree.
I look at the photo, which looks like those joke snapshots everyone takes of someone sleeping. I don't know why we think they're so funny. There's a lot that can be done to you while you're sleeping. This seems to be the message. Look how vulnerable you are, the things you aren't aware of. Yet in this picture you know she isn't just sleeping. Joanie has an IV and something called an endotracheal tube running out of her mouth to a ventilator that helps her breathe. She is fed through a tube and is administered enough medication to sustain a Fijian village. Scottie is documenting our life for her social studies class. Here's Joanie at Queen's Hospital, her fourth week in a coma, a coma that has scored a 10 on the Glasgow scale and a III on the Rancho Los Amigos scale. She was in a race and was launched from an offshore powerboat going eighty miles an hour, but I think she will be okay.
"She reacts nonpurposefully to stimuli in a nonspecific manner, but occasionally, her responses are specific though inconsistent." This is what I've been told by her neurologist, a young woman with a slight tremor in her left eye and a fast way of talking that makes it hard to ask questions. "Her reflexes are limited and often the same, regardless of stimuli presented," she says. None of this sounds good to me, but I'm assured Joanie's still holding on. I feel she'll be okay and one day able to function normally. I'm generally right about things.
"What was she racing for?" the neurologist asked.
The question confused me. "To win, I guess. To get to the end first."
"shut this off," I tell Scottie. She finishes pasting the picture into her book then turns off the television with the remote.
"No, I mean this." I point to the stuff in the window--the sun and trees, the birds on the grass hopping from crumb to crumb thrown by tourists and crazy ladies. "Turn this off. It's horrible." The tropics make it difficult to mope. I bet in big cities you can walk down the street scowling and no one will ask you what's wrong or encourage you to smile, but everyone here has the attitude that we're lucky to live in Hawaii; paradise reigns supreme. I think paradise can go fuck itself.
"Disgusting," Scottie says. She slides the stiff curtain across the window, shutting all of it out.