Matthew King was once considered one of the most fortunate men in Hawaii. His missionary ancestors were financially and culturally progressive–one even married a Hawaiian princess, making Matt a royal descendant and one of the state’s largest landowners.
Now his luck has changed. His two daughters are out of control: Ten-year-old Scottie is a smart-ass with a desperate need for attention, and seventeen-year-old Alex, a former model, is a recovering drug addict. Matt’s charismatic, thrill-seeking, high-maintenance wife, Joanie, lies in a coma after a boat-racing accident and will soon be taken off life support. The Kings can hardly picture life without her, but as they come to terms with this tragedy, their sadness is mixed with a sense of freedom that shames them–and spurs them into surprising actions.
Before honoring Joanie’s living will, Matt must gather her friends and family to say their final goodbyes, a difficult situation made worse by the sudden discovery that there is one person who hasn’t been told: the man with whom Joanie had been having an affair, quite possibly the one man she ever truly loved. Forced to examine what he owes not only to the living but to the dead, Matt takes to the road with his daughters to find his wife’s lover, a memorable journey that leads to both painful revelations and unforeseen humor and growth.
I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to get out of this novel. It wasn’t funny but had a hint of humor. It wasn’t devastatingly sad but had heavy moments of sorrow. It was a menagerie of sorts.
Throughout pretty much the whole first half I wondered why I was even bothering to read it. The main character, Matthew, from whose POV the story takes place, is an unlikable, fairly nonexistent father figure. He freely admits his fatherly shortcomings. His voice comes through flat and monotone, barely giving any real emotion. His girls are no easier to like. They’re obnoxious, obstinate and disrespectful. They have been left to her own whims for far too long. I couldn’t really like Joanie either (terrible to say that about someone in a coma, I know), at least not from Matthew’s point of view.
But somewhere along the way something changed before I even knew what was happening. The extended loss and pressure of Joanie’s imminent death changed them. Matthew changed not only as a father but also as a husband and family successor. He’s forced to see things for what they are, forced into the position of reconciling things he has put off for far too long and has to face painful truths about his marriage and his family. I must say that I was impressed. He stepped up to the challenge and, although not perfect (who is?), meets it head. I liked that he was brave enough to take a hard look at himself, and, not liking what he saw, has the wherewithal to try to change it. Try is the key word here. We don’t get to glimpse into the future of this newly downsized family. I do wonder if what has linked them together in this time of sorrow can keep them close in the future. Will they prosper after Joanie or will they fall back into the existence of before?
There are lots of great quotes and reflections in this book in regards to death, love and parenthood and there is certainly something in the book everyone can relate to. We’ve all lost someone close to us, experienced those exasperating years of childrearing, been devastated by something a loved one has done or have had to deal deal with extended family that only like us when they want something from us. But, like this family of descendants, hopefully we can pull it together, forgive but not forget, learn from the past and be better in the future.