Like McMillan's previous novels, Disappearing Acts ( LJ 7/89) and Mama ( LJ 1/87), her new effort features a predictable plot, prose that often falls flat, and a narrative that lacks depth.
Four African American women living in Phoenix devote most of their energies to searching for the one good black man who will make their dreams of the perfect partner and lover come true. Unsurprisingly, Savannah, Bernie, Gloria, and Robin all kiss several toads, but their trials and errors never arouse much interest. Far stronger is the author's sharp, often humorous depiction of the strong bonds among the four friends, their relationships with their families, and their community activities; readers will regret that McMillan did not develop these areas further.
-- Faye A. Chadwell, University of South Carolina Library, Columbia
Terry McMillan, in her way, has been among the most influential
African American writers of the past twenty years. Her novels
are accessible, realistic, and often hilarious accounts of
the exotic rituals of modern, urban African American men and
women looking for love and happiness—a theme not commonly
found in African American fiction before her successful second
novel, Disappearing Acts.
In Waiting to Exhale, her blockbuster best-selling third novel,
four vibrant professional women console and support one
another in a nurturing friendship that helps each of them deal
with troubled relationships with men. Waiting to Exhale demonstrates
that no matter how hard we search, sometimes Mr. Right just doesn't
show up, but that life goes on without him.
Even as the book was dismissed by some critics as popular
fluff or anti-male, millions of readers of all colors identified with
the struggles and the enduring sisterhood of Robin, Savannah,
Bernadine, and Gloria. Waiting to Exhale became a publishing
sensation, proving for once and for all that there is a substantial
audience of readers for popular, well-written African American
novels. The book also became a successful movie starring Whitney
Houston and inspired a flurry of knock-off books of lesser
Talk about timing! With relations between African-American men and women in the spotlight as never before, here comes McMillan's report from the front: her bawdy, vibrant, deliciously readable third novel (Mama, Disappearing Acts) is the story of four black women friends and their frequently disastrous encounters with black men.
The four are in their mid-to-late 30s, middle-class women making good money, and they live in Phoenix. Savannah, who has everything she wants except a man, has just moved from Denver, partly to be close to best friend Bernadine, whose 11-year-old marriage has collapsed. Super-successful "buppie" (black yuppie) John has tricked Bernadine every which way, but his greatest betrayal is crossing the color line to snare a California blond; now Bernadine must raise their two kids alone. Her friends Robin and Gloria are not having any better luck: Robin is a backsliding bubblehead whose study of astrology has not cured her weakness for "pretty men with big dicks" who use and abuse her, while the only male in overweight, matronly Gloria's life is her teenage son Tarik, a source of both anxiety and pride. We watch these women in a swirl of motion: working, partying, dishing, dating, and consoling each other on their misfortunes with men. Their consensus is that "black men play too many games" and are terrified of making commitments, even if they're buppies ("riffraff comes in all kinds of packages"). Two points here: First, McMillan's novel is not indiscriminately bashing brothersthere are good men out there (both Bernadine and Gloria have fine prospects by the end), and women cannot escape all the blame (Savannah's inability to say the three magic words costs her dearly). Second, these women do not mope. The story's best scene has them falling-down drunk at Gloria's hilarious birthday party; indeed, they are as timeless as Molly Bloom or the Wife of Bath in their robust sensuality.
A novel that hits so many exposed nerves is sure to be a conversation-piece: it has heart and pizzazz and even, yes, the sweet smell of the breakthrough book.