Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Getting To Happy" Book Review

Getting To Happy - Book Review
(published in the Philadelphia Inquirier - Sunday, Sep 26, 2010)

'Exhale' sequel lacks chemistry
We learn what happens to those 4 fascinating friends, but this time they seem less connected.

Getting to Happy
By Terry McMillan
Viking. 375 pp. $27.95

Has it really only been 18 years since Terry McMillan wowed the publishing world with her book Waiting to Exhale? It seems like forever!
How I missed those four friends, Bernadine, Gloria, Robin, and Savannah (missed them in that order, by the way) and wanted to know how they were doing.

Did Bernadine and her new man, James, have a happily forever after? My bet was they did. Bernadine deserved it after the way her ex-hubby did her. Hmph!

And Gloria. Oh, my precious Gloria. The woman with the weight problem - like me - who managed to hit pay dirt with a good man like Marvin. There was no doubt in my mind that she was still in heaven. And I wanted to share the good life right along with her.

Robin - oh, that cute little promiscuous, shopaholic scamp! She was pregnant and still single when I last checked in on her. I didn't know if she had the fortitude to be a single mom, but I just knew she'd get by because of the strength of her friends.

Savannah? Well, to be honest, I never did really cotton to Savannah. But still, I did wonder if Miss Perfectionist had finally met a man who could live up to her expectations. I sincerely wished the best for her.

So when I heard that Terry McMillan was writing a sequel to her 1992 blockbuster, I went wild! Couldn't wait to see how my girls were doing!

Well, you could have blown me away.

Bernadine's second husband was 10 times the jerk her first ever was. And so now she's twice divorced, and hooked on prescription pills.

Gloria's happily ever after comes to a screeching halt in the first of her chapters in this new book, due to a sudden tragedy.

Robin is still addicted to shopping, and still a lonely woman, desperately looking for men in all the wrong places.

Savannah is - well, Savannah is still Savannah. While she was still single in Waiting to Exhale, Getting to Happy opens with her being married and deciding to divorce her new husband after finding out a rather dirty (but not earth-shattering) secret about him.

As much as I wanted them to be happy, nobody was.

But then, the title of the book should have tipped me off. Getting to Happy implies they haven't made it yet.

Still? Oh no!

Though Waiting to Exhale was McMillan's third book, after Mama and Disappearing Acts, it was the one that brought her worldwide fame, and her first million dollars. Not only did it make the New York Times best seller's list, but it was turned into a movie starring Angela Bassett, Whitney Houston, Loretta DeVine, and Lela Richon. The scene in the book - and the movie - in which Bernadine angrily threw all of her husband's belongings into his brand-new BMW and then set the car on fire was burned into everyone's minds. Wow, talk about revenge!

This was just one of the drama-filled scenes in Waiting to Exhale, but sadly, there are no such scenes in McMillan's new book.

Getting to Happy takes us on an exploration of the lives of the four friends, but unlike Waiting to Exhale, the friendship itself doesn't become a fifth character of the book. Instead, it seems that the women are all on their own and only check in on each other every once in a while. Even after Gloria's tragedy, we didn't see the women rally around her the way we saw in Waiting to Exhale.

Which made me realize that I loved the relationship between the four friends even more than I loved the women themselves.

One of the things I've always loved about Terry McMillan books is that her story lines are realistic, and turn out the way things really do turn out in real life: no fairy-tale endings just to make readers happy. And, to be truthful, what happened to each of the women is pretty much how it could have played out in real life.

And maybe the biggest problem I had with the book was that I thought if there was hope for Bernadine, Gloria, Robin, and Savannah, there might be hope for me.

When I first read Waiting to Exhale, I, too, was a single, not-so-young, black woman who would have been happy to have a man in my life. I remember hearing about some study that said, statistically, a woman was more likely to get hit by lightning than marry after the age of 40; but these women - man, these women gave me hope!

I applaud McMillan for "keeping it real," as the young folks say, in Getting to Happy. But, dang, Terry, don't you realize how much I needed everyone to really have gotten to happy by now? Come on, girl, help a sista out.

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