Descriptions of exotic locales can easily become kitschy and unreal, more evocative of postcards than actual places, but a more muted approach can render spectacular beauty mundane. Hemmings, who was born and raised in Hawaii, skillfully captures the way the lush scenery is most often a mere backdrop to ordinary lives, but at times brings the emotional landscape into jarring relief.
The New York Times
A dusty, dreamy Hawaii rife with sexual frustration, loneliness and adolescent heartbreak is the setting for the nine stories of Hemmings's bold debut collection. Misery adores company in Final Girl, in which a single mother discovers a pornographic magazine in her 13-year-old son's room and turns on him despite herself, wishing he had more of that character-developing sadness. Instead, he's a child who sings in the car. In the title story, intrepid preteen Kora is anxious to fit into her clique of Lolitaesque teenage friends island girls doing bad things in pretty places and is frightened of losing her best friend, Wendy, when Wendy's delinquent brother, Perry, resurfaces. In Begin with an Outline, a girl is haunted by her imprisoned father, a notorious drug dealer; in Island Cowboys, embittered, indebted Pete covets his brother's easy prosperity and finds forbidden solace in his niece. A 16-year-old boy pines for his social-climbing nanny in Secret Clutch, only to discover that she has taken up with his wealthy father; a teenage girl and her father's mistress develop a disturbing bond in Location Scouts. At times Hemmings steers her troubled protagonists in predictable directions, but overall these are fresh, acerbic tales, offering a distinctive perspective on everyday life in a vacation paradise. Agent, Witherspoon Associates. (June 20) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
The nine stories in Hemmings's debut collection are startlingly precise in their unsentimental representation of the ways that people torment and sustain one another. Everyone is exposed-family members, friends, neighbors-in this spectacular compilation that rips deep into the marrow of the everyday lives of upper-class Hawaiians. In "The Minor Wars," a father's relationship with his precocious ten-year-old daughter titillates his comatose wife. As the girl grapples with the difference between physical and emotional pain, she vividly transitions from carefree kid to burdened adult. It's heartbreaking stuff, though laced with humor. "Final Girl" describes a single mother's relationship with her adolescent son and her downward spiral upon finding a pornographic magazine in his bedroom. Other stories zero in on brother-sister incest, a drug-dealing father's abandonment of his daughter, a confused teen's relationship with her dad's mistress, a son's realization of his parents' flaws, and the varied ways parents and children demonstrate their antipathy for one another. This emotionally brave anthology is hard-hitting, perceptive, beautifully crafted, and wonderfully entertaining. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Eleanor J. Bader, Brooklyn, NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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; theadults 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.