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Storywriter Kaui Hart Hemmings has published a first novel. It is set in Hawaii and it's called "The Descendants." The plot recalls the first line of "Anna Karenina," happy families are all alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Our reviewer Alan Cheuse says this family is as wealthy as it is unhappy.

ALAN CHEUSE: The Kings, blood descendants of a major Hawaiian landowner, are perfectly miserable with some cause. Wife and mother, Joanie, is lying in a coma in a hospital after a boating accident. Matthew, her husband, who's the slightly bewildered landowner and narrator of the Hemmings novel, soon suffers a major psychological blow when he discovers that the dying Joanie has been betraying him.

Without much warning, Matthew is left to care for their two daughters. Ten- year-old Scottie, a bright but annoying child, keeping a scrapbook about the family. She wears shirts with mottos such as, I'm not that kind of girl, but I can be. And then there's teenage, Alex, a pretty rebellious drug dapper with a pathetic wise-cracking buddy named Sid in tow(ph), to help witness things fall apart.

The tropics make it difficult to mope, Matthew King says as he recounts his story. I bet, in the big cities, you can walk down the streets scowling and no one will ask you what's wrong or encourage you to smile. But everyone here has the attitude that paradise reign supreme.

He's not so high on paradise. The scraps of the moments in our lives, is how he describes his younger daughter's school project. His own tale, a pilgrimage from Joanie's hospital bed on one island to the vacation retreat of her lover and his family on another island and back again, is something like that too - a scrape together narrative, a familial misery, hope and the flailing about of love.


NORRIS: Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. He's editor of "Seeing Ourselves: Great Stories of America's Past."

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