By: Chris McKinney
Reviewed By Piikea KalakauChris McKinney, an English professor at Honolulu Community College and Kahaluʻu native, follows up his breakthrough novel The Tattoo with his fourth novel Mililani Mauka, detailing bold suburban drama from central Oʻahu. Like his other novels, McKinney uses Mililani Mauka to depict Hawaiʻi in a murky light previously unseen to the public. Unlike his other novels, McKinney sets Mililani Mauka in the well-known suburbs of Oʻahu depicted in the title rather than his hometown of Kahaluʻu. McKinney’s fourth (and possibly most cohesive) text, a six-degrees of separation type story, addresses the effects of various socioeconomic problems (such as homelessness) on O’ahu, cultural stereotypes and even tells a story of two people’s search for their true home.
McKinney begins the novel with a disturbing prologue detailing character John Krill’s rampage across Mililani Town, including his bulldozing most of the area and eventually being shot down by police. The scene is symbolic for many reasons. First, it takes place in an area known for little to no crime (establishing its status as a predominantly upper-class neighborhood on the island). Second, the prologue represents many issues many islanders have with areas on the island including themes of poverty and homelessness not being addressed in areas outside of the stereotypical “problem” areas such as Waianae. John Krill’s rampage through Mililani represented general anger towards a problem that is usually silenced by the upper-middle class who are not normally affected.
The novel continues as McKinney describes his character Banyan Mott, a Honolulu Community College professor (like McKinney himself) who ends up buying the house John Krill and his wife Kai Krill used to live in. Banyan deeply despises his new suburban lifestyle living in Mililani Mauka and expresses his frustration at every chance. Banyan’s animosity toward Mililani Mauka is also related to the socioeconomic issue of poverty and homelessness as Banyan despises the arrogant attitude of the town’s association and even its members (such as when he is forced to lower his front cement wall two feet simply because of “rules”).
Like his other books, McKinney addresses cultural stereotypes at various points in the novel. A large part of the beginning of the book is set on a stretch of “sixteen miles of homelessness…the leeward coast”, an area where much of the island’s homeless (identified as “mostly native Hawaiians”) are located. McKinney does an exceptionally good job at depicting this area realistically, from describing the people (“half-assed, destitute, teenaged Polynesian Capone, hair slicked back with seawater”) to the actual locations of the area (“Other, bigger camps are surrounded by pretend property markers of chicken wire, beach rocks, or driftwood; these are laid out like a makeshift home interior—kitchen”). In reality, much of the Leeward coast is in fact inhabited by homeless native Hawaiians and McKinney does a nice job in respectfully describing both the people and area that cause much grief for Oʻahu residents and lawmakers.
The six-degrees of separation aspect of the book unfolds as the reader learns Kai Krill, wife of the crazed John Krill who bulldozed through much of Mililani, enrolls in a course at the college Banyan Mott teaches at. Kai Krill is aware of her indirect relation to her professor (as he has just purchased her foreclosed home) and this connection intrigues her. We are eventually introduced to a few more relationships (the cop who shot John Krill tries to care for his son Josh; the dead John Krill himself who comes back as a menehune or ghostly-smurf character; and various interrelated characters living in the suburb) in the book but perhaps the most important connection in the story is between Banyan Mott and Kai Krill, as both peoples’ lives directly influence the other and both seem to be searching for the same thing throughout the story.
Mott and Krill both long for a more permanent home in which they can satisfy the intangible feeling of actually being “home”. Both have been forced out of their comfort zones in different ways; Krill became homeless following her husband’s crazed outburst and Mott was forced to buy the overpriced suburban home by his wife and in-laws. Both are unhappy in their situations and greatly desire an escape, harboring growing resentment as the story progresses. Unfortunately, both characters come to no real resolution at the end of the book, instead attempting to find happiness with the situations they are dealt, even asking “So when did Hawaiʻi stop being Hawaiʻi?” in an effort to change the inevitable situations they were dealt (and also blaming their geographical location for their problems, as McKinney’s characters often do).
In Mililani Mauka, Chris McKinney does an exceptional job in depicting a central Oʻahu unknown to many people. Mililani Mauka is shown as a dark suburban area with over-the-top, upper-class suburbanites and normal people who sometimes go off the deep end. McKinney does a great job in depicting the island’s growing homeless situation along the Leeward coast and even ties in the emotional experience shared by both Mott and Krill as they are displaced from their desired homes. Like his other works, McKinney stays true to local roots and respectfully shares the “other side” of paradise with his readers. Unlike his other novels, McKinney incorporates an unusual relationship between Mott and Krill as their unexpected bond grows. In his fourth novel Mililani Mauka, Chris McKinney once again satisfies readers with a look at usually overlooked aspects of our island home while also incorporating some realistic suburban drama into the story.