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After her scandal-ridden divorce several years ago (just before Christmas 2004 her husband, Jonathan Plummer, announced that he was gay, and things got very public and very ugly), author Terry McMillan seems to be suffering from "crab in a barrel" syndrome. In her new book, "Getting to Happy" she kidnaps her characters and forces them to attend a pity party.
A sequel to her bestselling "Waiting to Exhale," the novel revisits best friends Savannah, Bernadine, Robin and Gloria. When we last left these women, they had relied on friendship to help heal their emotional wounds. There was Savannah, devoted to her career and constantly losing at love. Bernadine had set fire to her cheating husband's belongings. Gloria had finally found the man of her dreams after a love drought. Lastly, Robin had become pregnant by one in a long line of loser men.
At the end of "Exhale," readers were given hope that, somehow, these strong black women would make a way. Ten years later, the ups and downs of life helped them move on and up. But then, in dramatic fashion, the storm clouds returned and in "Getting to Happy" it's nothing but hail, sleet and snow on the parade.
This is the first sequel for McMillan. In a note to readers she admits that she's been miserable and therefore wanted to write about women who are not content with being the victim, but who strive to "excavate their way back to happy." McMillan said it was then that she realized where "Waiting to Exhale" would end and got excited about where these characters' lives were going.
But it's not happy reading. Deceit and sadness fill the book, spreading like disease from one character to next. Not even the second- and third-ring characters are safe from troubled times.
All but Bernadine's problems are love-related. Savannah has left her husband because of his porn addiction. Robin has cut her heart off from the world and is overly focused on her career and motherhood. Gloria has to deal with the pain that no one ever wants to bear, the death of a beloved. Bernadine, numb from two failed marriages, lives the life of a desperate housewife, using Xanax and Ambien to cope.
Just before McMillan drops the reader into the pit of despair and seeking professional help themselves, she begins laying the concrete for the girlfriends to take their first steps in finding a happy place. Raw and cutting, the book mirrors the everyday life of real folk, revealing how scary it can be to look hard at another's actions in order to repair broken hearts and spirits.
"Getting to Happy" is realistic in that it boldly states that life can be miserable, sometimes for years, yet one must find the inner strength to not just lie there and accept what is happening, but to summon the love of good friends and inner strength to improve any given situation.
Melissa Walker is a calendar writer at the Star Tribune.