Ghost helps add zip to Mililani mystique


POSTED: Sunday, May 17, 2009

Many years ago the Star-Bulletin printed a special section on Oahu's neighborhoods, inviting readers to submit essays on their communities. Quite a few came from teens in Mililani (it was probably a class assignment), generally reflecting the same theme: My neighborhood is boring but I guess I like it.





        » Book launch party: 1 p.m. Saturday, Barnes & Noble Ala Moana, with reading by Chris McKinney




        » May 30: 2 p.m. Borders Windward Mall

» June 6: Noon, Borders Waikele; 2 p.m., Borders Ward


» June 13: Noon, Borders Express Mililani




This came to mind when I cracked open “;Mililani Mauka,”; Chris McKinney's smart, sometimes funny, often sad new novel, his fourth. But what also came to mind was the Sunday-night TV show “;Desperate Housewives,”; with its theme that below the picket-fence exterior of suburbia lies a soap opera.

McKinney's suburbia is boring and plastic, with good schools, nice soccer fields and safe streets. A great place to raise kids. “;No one in their right mind moves to Mililani unless they are parents,”; he observes with loving disdain.

At the same time, he explodes that notion with his lead-off character, John Krill, who super-charges a bulldozer and uses it to gouge out a chunk of the Mililani Wal-Mart. The cops shoot him dead, and he returns as a ghost to haunt the guy who buys his house.

OK, if that really happened in Mililani, no one would say it was boring ever again.

Those who've lived in the suburbs—anywhere in America—will recognize the community McKinney describes, full of “;houses that do not look exactly alike but were built with the same parts.”;


But I hope you don't know anyone like the people in McKinney's story. Across the board, they're an unsympathetic lot with problems from serial philandering to neglectful child-raising to suppressed rage to plain dumbness. Only the kids are somewhat OK. Even the one positive adult character, policeman Dan, can lean toward the wacko. They're all stuck in that place where misery breeds contempt.

McKinney—author of the “;The Tattoo,”; “;The Queen of Tears”; and “;Bolohead Row”;—actually lives in Mililani and teaches at Honolulu Community College, the same as his central character, Banyan Mott, the unfortunate new owner of Krill's house.

This gives him an affinity for both character and setting, but the intelligence of his storytelling goes far beyond that. It's in the way he turns a phrase that makes you smile and realize you know exactly what he's talking about: “;Josh's feet are wrapped sloppily in gauze, like two Christmas presents from an unmarried uncle.”;

“;Mililani Mauka”; unfolds on many fronts. There's Krill and the mystery of what ignited the bulldozer incident, but that story has tentacles in all the others. As the pieces gravitate toward the center, we come to understand this sorry bunch.

And so the story does leave Mililani, taking us to a homeless encampment in Waianae, to bars downtown and hotels in Waikiki. The one place I wish it also went was to hell, where Krill must report in on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Hell is in Tahiti, Krill says, under Mount Orohena.

Imagine what McKinney could do with that little piece of suburbia.