I’m sure most of you remember all of the 2011 Oscar buzz surrounding screenwriter/director Alexander Payne’s film adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel, The Descendants. George Clooney gave an understated but emotionally powerful performance as the novel’s protagonist, Matt King, and up-and-comer Shailene Woodley left her mark with an award-nominated performance as Clooney’s troubled daughter turned partner in crime, Alexandra.
I’d avoided seeing the movie, despite all of the acclaim, because I really wanted to get my hands on Hemmings’ original work first. I picked it up over the long weekend and could not put it down! Needless to say, a few hours later I’d finished the book—but it’s still all I can think about days later. Hemmings creates characters that stay with you. Their tragedies are so universal, so relatable, and when developed against the backdrop of Hawaiian paradise, this story offers an insightful, cleverly constructed reminder that the events, relationships, and misfortunes that shape our lives shape all of us, every human, no matter who we are or where we are. And, maybe more importantly, their triumphs are often so subtle and so seemingly insignificant that Hemmings successfully relays that exact message: that in trying times, it is often those minor improvements and those fleeting reminders of joy or beauty in the world that keep our days rolling forward. This is such a beautiful read—often harsh but always warm, honest, and even funny.