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The Descendants    by Kaui Hart Hemmings order for
by Kaui Hart Hemmings
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

As the descendant of a Hawaiian princess and the haole businessman she married, lawyer Matthew King must make a decision in six days on the ownership of land that's been in the family since the 1840s. He's the largest shareholder. The cash poor cousins want him to sell out, and his wife even advocated for a particular bidder. But now Joanie has been in a coma for four weeks, after being thrown from a motorboat while racing. Matt is in denial, hoping for her recovery and at the same time learning to cope with new responsibilities for his two daughters.

The youngest child, ten-year-old Scottie is 'excitable and strange.' She deals awkwardly with her mother's coma, refusing to try to talk to her and repeatedly snapping photographs to document the situation for her social studies class. She deliberately injures herself. Matt consults parent websites and chat rooms. Joanie had sent their elder daughter Alex - who's 'beautiful and fast, ready to dump her childhood like a bad habit' - to boarding school after she started doing drugs, but Matt decides to bring her home. And after finding an odd note in Joanie's wallet when she was admitted to hospital, Matt suspects that his wife was in love with another man.

As time moves swiftly towards a decision on the land sale and seems to be running out for Joanie (who's made a living will), Matt stumbles along as a single parent from one bizarre situation to another. Alex comes home but insists on her odd friend Sid, who's 'got some issues', tagging along. They all lash out at each other, in ways that seem very credible, given the situation. Matt verifies his wife's infidelity and wants to learn more about it. Alex eggs him on to track down Joanie's lover, and he uncovers a connection to the land deal. Though hurting, Matt still recalls their life together and love for each other with affection.

The author's tongue often seems firmly in cheek in The Descendants, a surreal but addictive story that's propelled forward by minor mysteries. What will happen to Joanie? To whom will Matt sell the ancestral land? Will he be able to create a family unit with his two daughters? Though slow to catch my interest, the novel did and held it to a satisfying conclusion - in which Matt King acknowledges that he's lost the ancestral art of wayfinding, but nevertheless takes charge and steers his family home.

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