The Barnes & Noble Review
Equal parts cultural phenom, literary trailblazer, and all-around righteous sister, Terry McMillan inspires hope and devotion, her novels -- including Waiting to Exhale, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and Disappearing Acts -- celebrated for their affirming vision of empowered women. A Day Late and a Dollar Short delivers this and more, exploring the Price family: matriarch Viola; daughters Paris, Janelle, and Charlotte; husband Cecil; and son Lewis. And as never before, McMillan's men give as good as they take, equal to their feisty, fast-talking feminine relations. The layered characterizations -- revealed through first-person chapters told individually by each family member -- imbue the novel with a rare dimensionality, as the same people and events are viewed from multiple perspectives. And more than the title allows, the Price family in McMillan's A Day Late and a Dollar Short discovers that forgiveness can offer powerful healing, even from beyond the grave.
Any man with a whiff of sense knows better than to express a critical opinion about the work of Terry McMillan in gender-mixed company. McMillan's legion of female readers fiercely protect her, unafraid to speak at length and at the drop of a hat about her gifts and her relevance. Male validation is unnecessary.
Sometimes that level of loyalty gets delightfully loud. Attending an Atlanta screening of the film version of Waiting to Exhale several years ago, I witnessed the largely female audience actively participating, peppering the on-screen dialogue with "Tell the truth!" and "Amen, sister!" Sunday morning church services blended with Friday night cineplex previews. At McMillan's bookstore appearances, too, women have been known to testify during the question-and-answer periods, joyously, tearfully remembering the discovery in McMillan's novels of women like themselves: strong and vulnerable, delicate and determined, flawed and fabulous.
In A Day Late and a Dollar Short, the four Price women are complicated and conflicted, seemingly unable to figure out ways to express their love for one another or the men in their lives without bumping up against family ghosts and assorted personal baggage. Intimacy remains illusory. Echoing the four female voices of Waiting to Exhale, the Price women face some familiar challenges, including health, finances, children, spouses, infidelity, and career options. But a departure awaits, as McMillan flexes her fictional muscles, including several strong male characters who boldly claim equal time.
Although McMillan has employed a male voice before in Disappearing Acts, where Franklin alternated with Zora to tell the tale, it always felt more like a woman's story. In A Day Late and a Dollar Short, family patriarch Cecil Price and his only son, Lewis, are equal to the task of getting a word in edgewise among all those fast-talking women. The male characters are as fully realized, as complex and as capable of growth and transformation, as any of the women.
A Day Late and a Dollar Short is, ultimately, about those transformations. It's about the healing power of family forgiveness, even when it comes to the wounds that go back to when Mama didn't love you enough or Daddy wasn't paying attention or your little sister got to ride in the front seat while you had to squeeze in the back. In McMillan's novel, those old hurts are batted back and forth among the characters so often that sometimes it is a struggle to see the whole picture and, therefore, the whole truth. In this, the reader's journey is similar to the one taken by the Price family itself, requiring us, like them, to take one step back for every two steps forward, but promising great rewards if we just commit.
When Viola's family gathers on Thanksgiving to share the letters she has written each one, absolving them of all crimes, real or imagined, the book signals a transition for McMillan, as well as for her characters. In A Day Late and a Dollar Short, she seems to have decided that forgiveness is preferable to harsher judgments, especially in matters of the heart. Where this kinder, gentler worldview will ultimately lead McMillan's female characters is still a mystery. For the moment, it seems enough that they can simply forgive, forget, and, finally, exhale.