I first heard of this one while flying on a plane and browsing the film selections. The storyline seemed fascinating, but I chose not to watch it, as it starred George Clooney. I have nothing against George Clooney himself, but the attachment of such a name to a film implied Hollywood, and I don’t often watch Hollywood movies anymore, as I find them dull – overly flashy with no real substance. Still, the plot was tempting. I had no idea it’d been a book first, until I noticed my local library had the ebook.
I recently started reading ebooks through the Kindle Cloud Reader – while I still prefer physical books (mostly to get a reprieve from computers and devices for awhile), I enjoy borrowing ebooks as a way to explore things I wouldn’t otherwise read. Even this one: I wasn’t sure I’d be interested. Borrowing the ebook was immediate and allowed me to sample it without any effort. If I didn’t like it, I could likewise return it immediately and not think of it again. Yes, it is possible to do this by going to the library and browsing, finding a nice corner to read a few pages before deciding. However, sometimes you feel like finding something new to read at 11pm.
Amazon Summary:Fortunes have changed for the King family, descendants of Hawaiian royalty and one of the state’s largest landowners. Matthew King’s daughters—Scottie, a feisty ten-year-old, and Alex, a seventeen-year-old recovering drug addict—are out of control, and their charismatic, thrill-seeking mother, Joanie, lies in a coma after a boat-racing accident. She will soon be taken off life support. As Matt gathers his wife’s friends and family to say their final goodbyes, a difficult situation is made worse by the sudden discovery that there’s one person who hasn’t been told: the man with whom Joanie had been having an affair. Forced to examine what they owe not only to the living but to the dead, Matt, Scottie, and Alex take to the road to find Joanie’s lover, on a memorable journey that leads to unforeseen humor, growth, and profound revelations.
The prose is utilitarian, lovely in its storytelling capacity – not a word is wasted. It is well crafted, in a way that you don’t much notice the prose as it carries the story so well. There aren’t any gasps of sudden beauty, as in The Inheritance of Loss, but the writing is solid – there are also no cringing moments at the poor writing (as I have with all Dan Brown books, entertaining for a quick read, but terribly, terribly written). When I focus in on the writing, I find it rather good, actually, and am surprised how little I noticed the words that were chosen. Not brilliant, but well-chosen. But it is evident that the story is the focus.
It’s the kind of book where you understand why it made a good movie. The characters are developed in a visual sort of way. There isn’t very much in the book that would be lost on the screen – the narrator doesn’t have much to add because he, too, is discovering things as events unfold. He doesn’t have much more to tell than what he experiences because it seems he wasn’t really there.
There could have been more self-awareness in the book. In my last post I praised The Inheritance of Loss because the characters didn’t understand their own feelings and actions in any clear narrative, and now I’m complaining that the main character doesn’t understand himself? Well, this is different – people think constantly about the things they do. It’s just that the narrative can change from moment to moment. I think the Inheritance of Loss captured that lack of solidity quite well, while the Descendants kept away from inner thought a bit too much.
It reminds me, a little, of the other books I thought were written for film adaptations – Nick Hornby books. So many people raved about him until I had to read, and then I realized there was nothing in the books that was lacking in the films. Sometimes the films even improve upon the books through a little fine-tuning. I had the same impression with the Virgin Suicides, although in that case I actually strongly disliked the book, though I can’t remember why. With Nick Hornby, it was more of a feeling of wasted time. With this one, it was pleasantly spent time, but I feel that time could have been just as pleasantly spent with the film. And I’m generally a person who bitches and moans about the inadequacy of film adaptations.
So, this seems like the ultimate condemnation then, no? Seems that I am trying to say, if you wanted to write a film, why not just do that instead? But the fact is, I enjoyed the book. The characters were cleverly developed and the story fascinating. What I liked most about it was that the characters where quite unlikeable, even as you find yourself liking them. The father had been absent and self-involved until his wife was in a coma. The younger daughter is learning all the worst kinds of behavior. The wife in the coma is the most inherently unlikeable character. Selfish, narcissistic and the ultimate materialistic bad influence. Yet even the wife becomes pitiable for a brief flash. And that was the greatest thing about the book – that it allows you, encourages you to dislike a woman about to die. It is honest in that sense, it doesn’t cloud things.
Not only was the book enjoyable, but it passes my main test for books, the question of whether anything in the book will stick with me, will linger in my brain. The answer is yes. Now, I have to say that not much of it will linger. The plotline will fade. The older daughter will fade, as much as she was the most likeable character (with the possible exception of her slightly odd but not as odd as the story pretends him to be boyfriend). The things that will linger are the truths of society that aren’t captured too well in other books. I think the most haunting thing is the over-sexualized behavior of the ten year old, who doesn’t understand her actions but knows that sexualization is something she should strive for. Creepy. Also the entitled behavior of all the characters, perhaps especially reflected in the idea that the husband assisted in the wife’s death because he refused to buy her a boat. Really? A boat? It’s in these details that the book excels. It creates its world very well. We are looking in from the outside, even at the narrator, but the picture is vivid.
Now that I’ve read the book, perhaps I’ll watch the film after all. I can, in fact, picture George Clooney quite well as the main character. I also don’t think much would be lost in a film version. An entertaining read, but not something to devote too much time or attention to. If it takes you more than a few days, give up. It should be entertaining more than anything else.