Thursday, January 15, 2015

WHATCHA READIN'? The Descendants (2007)

The first month of the year is only half over and already I’m behind.

One of my lifestyle resolutions—less clutter!—led to the effort to weed out as many extraneous volumes around here as I could. Extraneous as in: old, worn, not so good copies that need not be held onto forevermore, and as in: spanking newish-looking editions that I’ll probably never read. Into the gaping chasm between the two fell books I’ve had around, meaning to read but not to keep. Which means I should try to blaze a trail through those suckers and chuck’em.

Such reasoning led me to read The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings because I picked it up some time ago due to my enjoyment of the 2011 film based on it, directed by Alexander Payne and starring George Clooney in what may be the best “normal guy” role he’s ever done. Also particularly good in the film is the part of his daughter, Alex, played by Shailene Woodley, and his father-in-law, played by Robert Forster. Watching the film, which glosses over rather swiftly the Hawaiian antecedents so important to the fortune Matt King (Clooney) and his numerous cousins enjoy, I felt for certain the novel would give much more background and flesh out what must be interesting cultural heritage. Well, it doesn’t. What the novel does, mostly, is exactly what the film does so well: delineates the perspective of Matt as he deals with his comatose wife’s impending death, and her recent infidelity, and tries to move from “backup parent” to main parent with his two daughters. What Hemmings is very good at is rendering a variety of teenage savvy that Woodley enacts so well in the film, and a variety of middle-schooler cluelessness and arch innocence that falls to the younger daughter, Scottie (Amara Miller, also very good, and more soulful perhaps than the character in the book). The screenplay improves on a few minor points, and Beau Bridges is on hand in the film to flesh out one of the cousins in a memorable fashion. All in all, a quick, breezy read, with questions about family life—both its carnage and in its bonds—explored with a sense of how uneasy it makes us to brush against the unspoken things. Still, a sense of place comes through much more strongly in the film than in the book and that was contrary to my expectation.

Admittedly, not a very demanding book for my first read of 2015, but at least that one’s off my shelves quickly.

No comments: