If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy
Author: Kaui Hart Hemmings
Did you ever see The Descendants? (If not, do you live under a rock?)
The Oscar-winning film came out in 2011 and earned George Clooney multiple nominations and awards for his lead role as the floundering Matt King. In short, it managed to be smart, dark and humorous all at the same time, which is exactly how I like my movies. And my books.
The Descendants was based on the superb novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, which I practically gulped down because I could not read it fast enough. For such a young writer, Hemmings has a gift for cutting to the quick. She offers heartache as well as beauty, packaged up in her clean, affecting writing.
I went on to gulp down Hemmings’ second novel, The Possibilities, as well as her book of short stories, House of Thieves. And then I decided if I had to pick one writer with whom to be stranded on a desert island, I’d choose Hemmings. She’d acknowledge how crappy it is being stranded on a desert island, but she’d also find a way to make us laugh about our circumstances.
In Hemmings’ newest novel, How to Party With an Infant, she turns to the subject of parenthood and depicts how it can be a desert island of its own—if not for loyal, rallying friends. Led by scrappy single mother Mele Bart, Hemmings’ troop of five San Francisco-based parents struggles with vulnerabilities, frustrations, and very unruly offspring. Intermixed with their mirthful cursing and the eating of In-N-Out burgers are raw and sometimes mortifying moments that will remind you that you’re not alone in your insecurities.
But Hemmings trips me up with this book, and it’s why my review is ultimately 3½ stars instead of 4.
A few chapters in How to Party With an Infant are so carefully crafted that they could stand on their own as short stories. Why, then, does Hemming dilute her writing and character development by interspersing pages of silly blog posts from the fictional San Francisco Mother’s Club? I assume these posts—ranging from rants about babysitters to the trials of finding a preschool—are intended as comic relief, but they are needless and only scrape away at the emotional meat of the book.
The front and inside covers of the novel also puzzle me. It seems as if her publisher is trying to position How to Party With an Infant as a light, beachy read. But—the dreaded blog posts notwithstanding—Hemmings is not supposed to be light, beachy reading. When I pick up one of her books, I want depth! I want substance! I get a little bit of this with How to Party With an Infant, but the rest is a missed opportunity.
I am not, however, giving up on Hemmings. I trust that she and her publisher will sort through this identity crisis and point themselves in the right direction (i.e. the direction of The Descendants). In the meantime, I still choose her for my desert island.
-Laura Anne Bird
- Interview with author Nickolas Butler - September 7, 2021
- Q&A with Robert Radin, author of Teaching English to Refugees - August 11, 2021
- Coming-of-Age With Andrew J. Graff: Interview and Book Recommendations - June 5, 2021