Debut collection set in a paradise forever lost to the privileged elite who, in their search for love and retribution, despoil Hawaii’s exotic beauty and indigenous culture.
With a cool, precise narrative voice, Hemmings eviscerates a tropical country-club society populated by fatuous patriarchs, disengaged mothers and bitter kids. What distinguishes these tales of the filthy rich at play is their way of showing the ease and seeming lack of consequence with which lives are ruined and hope lost. The author’s eye for damning detail is unflinching. A girl of ten intentionally swims with and gets stung by a flotilla of Portuguese men-of-war so she will have a story worth whispering into the ear of her unapproachable mother, who lies in a coma, now literally out of reach, after being thrown from a lover’s speedboat; a runaway older brother persuades his sister to help him strip their parents’ plush home (including a marble fireplace), then strands her on the wild North Shore. Incestuous impulses rumble through the nine stories like molten rock on the move, seismic warnings that go unheeded: an uncle makes out with his teenage niece while high on the magic mushrooms she introduced him to; a mother who has sacrificed her own happiness in order to preserve her missionary-family’s plantation becomes jealous of her son’s burgeoning sexuality; a boy lusts after his nanny. It’s a world of lavish second weddings attended by drunken exes and cagey stepsiblings calculating how to divvy up not enough love as it is. As adept with the flora and fauna of her native landscape as she is with the animal kingdom’s most dangerous predator, Hemmings creates an unstable ecosystem on the verge of collapse; the adults believe that they’re happy and that the children can fend for themselves in the lush land, but, in truth, everyone is at sea, where sharks circle and riptides reign.
The undertow of these dark and seductive tales is irresistible.