Getting to Happy Ironically Isn't
When I first picked up Getting to Happy by Terry McMillan, I realized it was the sequel to the very popular book (and movie) Waiting to Exhale > -- which, of course, I’d never read. Or seen. I am always a little leery of reading books in a series out of order because of the information that I don’t have from the previous one(s), but Terry McMillan did a great job of introducing all the characters and their backstory without recreating the first book to bore those who have actually read or seen Waiting to Exhale . The fact that this book takes place fifteen years after Waiting to Exhale probably helps significantly, as there is a lot that has happened to the four main characters in the intervening time.
Robyn, Bernadine, Gloria, and Savannah are all in their early fifties now, and they are struggling mightily -- still -- with finding themselves and being comfortable with who they are. It’s odd to say, but in a way, this feels like a coming of age story for them. That said, some of it was hard to read for me with all of them as wrapped up in their identities with the men in the lives, both past and present, as they are. I’m not sure why I had such an issue with this, as so many of the books I read are about women whose lives are complete only once they marry that “right” man, but I did struggle with it, perhaps because I felt like they should have more common sense at their ages that what they seemed to.
All of them were also so angry, which is unusual in books that I read. Given the author’s note at the end of the book, I suspect much of it is the author’s own anger and feelings of betrayal from her personal life. Some of that anger and the bitterness of the characters made it difficult for me to really like them and relate to them. I wanted to shake them sometimes and tell them to get with it and take control of their lives.
That said, the book focuses on the lives of each of the four women, primarily individually but also as they spend time with each other. I am really curious to understand why two of the characters have their stories told in first person (except when the chapters involve more than two of the main characters at a time) while the other two are relegated to third person status. That and the tendency for the characters to have long conversations back and forth without identifying who is speaking (twice where I went back and counted and found that the speaker got mixed up somewhere along the line) was somewhat jarring to me as the reader and made it difficult to get truly into the book. I am a voracious reader and will go through books I love reading in a day or two. This book I would read a bit then put it down and not make the excuses to pick it back up again, the way I do for books I love.
I did enjoy the book, however. As disjointed as it sometimes was to read, there were multiple places in the book where I cried -- proof that the book did touch me. I definitely cheered the women on as we got further into the book, even as my internal voice was sometimes screaming “No, no, don’t do it!” at them. They are all “good” women who have been thrown for a loop in one way or another, and as we got closer to the end, it was refreshing to see them beginning to grow into themselves.
Robyn, Bernadine, Gloria, and Savannah have all been friends since the first book fifteen years earlier. As you read it, you can see how well they know each other, and it is obvious how much they care for each other. They don’t, however, always treat each other very nicely, and some of the ways they talk to each other was very off-putting to me. It isn’t the way I would ever talk to people I care about, and some of it was hard for me to read.
In the end, though, I did make a connection with the four characters. I did see them through to the end, though this is no fairy tell with a happily ever after neatly tied up in a bow for them. It isn’t necessarily enough for me to go pick up Terry McMillan’s other books and read them all, but I just might read at least one other of her novels, as I suspect it won’t have that note of bitterness and anger that really kept me from getting as into Getting to Happy as I suspect I would have otherwise.
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