‘The Descendants’ is a great read, too

Many of us have seen the movie, “The Descendants.” Some of the scenes were shot here on Kauai, including at the Lihue Airport, Hanalei Bay and Tahiti Nui. I have mentioned a few times sitting in the George Clooney seat at the Nui. A scene where the characters drive to a spectacular spot that overlooks property that in the movie is the site for a planned development was shot at Kipu Ranch.

The movie wasn’t a big hit, but it did earn a reported $177 million worldwide, though, perhaps surprisingly, less than half of that earned in the U.S. It received solid reviews.

The film was based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings. It’s a terrific read as it follows the story of the King family, their personal challenges and decisions that the father, Matt King, has to make that could very well affect the future of Kauai.

In case you missed the movie, the story unfolds like this: The mom is in a coma after a boating accident. The two daughters each have their own issues they’re dealing with. The father and husband Matt King (played by Clooney in the movie) is coming to terms with the loss of his wife, their strained marriage, and what to do with a huge piece of property on Kauai that’s been in the family for decades. Some family members want to sell it and let it be developed. Matt King, who is in charge of it and has the final say, has doubts. Meantime, he’s trying to connect with his daughters.

That’s a short summary.

Hemmings is a fine writer. A nice, relaxing style. Her story flows along smoothly, easy to follow. You’re not ever left trying to figure out what just happened. She’s a descriptive writer without overdoing it. One of her strengths is dialogue. She writes the way people actually talk. Sometimes, when you read a book and quotes, you think, no one actually talks that way. But Hemmings captures the conversational tones just as they would be said in real life. Like this one:

“Where’s Sid?” I ask. It feels strange, asking about him.

“He’s smoking a cigarette,” Alex says.

“Tell her you’re sorry,” Scottie says.

“For what?” Alex says.

“For being drunk. For not being a boy. Mom wanted boys. That’s what Grandma told me. We’re girls.”

“Sorry for being bad,” Alex says. “For wasting Dad’s money on coke and liquor. Money you could have used for face lotion. I’m sorry.”

“Alex,” I say.

“Dad lets me have Diet Coke,” Scottie says.

“Sorry for everything,” Alex says, and then she looks up at me and says, “Sorry, Mom, that Dad wasn’t good enough for you.”

But it’s not just dialogue where Hemmings nails it. Her narratives, like this one, are spot on.

“A chunk of Honolulu floats into view, and I can see lights coursing up the hills, then a blank dark space and another long row of house lights. It’s always strange to be reminded of other lives still moving along. For every light I see, there’s a person or a family, or someone like myself, enduring something. I feel the plane dropping, and then a wisp of cloud obstructs the view and makes our speed tangible.”

If you liked the movie, you’ll like the book. There are a few profanities in the book, but Hemmings does not go overboard with foul language. The King family speaks pretty much how you would expect a real family to speak in such a situation.

This book covers a lot of territory in a short time. It will not leave you wondering when something is going to happen. It reflects on life, love and the beauty of living in a paradise like Hawaii.


Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.

  1. Susan Campbell February 8, 2019 11:10 am Reply

    I’ve read the book and seen the movie and enjoyed them both. But as usually happens, the book was better, though I did love the movie scenes filmed on Kauai!

  2. Bob February 11, 2019 12:08 pm Reply

    This is a great article. I’ve watched “The Descendants ” probably 20 times. My wife and I would never go to Kauai and NOT go to Tahiti Nui. Several years ago we had a group of 11 family members travel to Kauai after my daughter completed Med School and became a doctor. It was in May and just happened to be my birthday. My wife and I went by Tahiti Nui during the day and talked to Julia (the manager) about having my 60th birthday party there that night. She rolled out the red carpet and showed our group an amazing time. The band even let me sing “Lei Pikake” with them. It’s one of my favorite Hapa songs. I took my brother and sister in law by there last year while visiting on Kauai and they really had a good time.
    I still can’t believe Julia was never listed as a cast member in the movie. She even had a small speaking part. I guess the Screen Actors Guild would have had to compensate her. Not fair.
    I have never read the book but I will now. Thanks for the info on the book.

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