Getting to Happy Or At Least Trying To
Maybe it's because I didn't read the first book, Waiting to Exhale. Maybe it's because I didn't see the movie and lacked emotional attachment to already established characters. Whatever the reason, I found it extremely difficult to get lost in the lives and times of Gloria, Robin, Savannah and Bernadine in Getting to Happy.
And I tried. Hard.
These four friends -- strong, opinionated women in their own right, have suffered the ups and downs of reaching middle age, and now face everything from divorce and death to job loss and homosexual children. There is betrayal, cheating, porn addiction and drug counseling. Not to mention an F-word on every other page. To be honest, the book was exhausting.
It did have redeeming qualities. I absolutely loved reading the girlfriends' four-way phone conversation. Their chat -- laced with argument, laughter, teasing and advice -- went on for several pages. That kind of girl talk I could relate to. It was entertaining. And movie night? Hilarious. No one could stop talking long enough to let the movie play. Interruptions, hysterical laughter and friendly admonitions are the basis of every healthy friendship.
It was obvious throughout the book: these women care about each other and they're just learning how to care about themselves.
It's this transformation -- this realization that life is what we make of it, that captured my attention and spurred me on to see how they would end up. For that I give Terry McMillan credit. Allowing ourselves to get to happy is not easy and I'd imagine, writing about it is even more difficult.
I got the message. I understood her purpose. I just found it hard to relate to the characters for the first 150 pages or so. McMillan takes the reader through turmoil, heartbreak and triumph. Then -- out of nowhere, we near the end of the book and it feels like a race to wrap things up in a couple of chapters. It was astonishing. It took forever to connect with the characters and then it felt like she snatched them away from me in conclusion.
Don't get me wrong -- I enjoyed the ending. I appreciated each character's story and yes, where she found her joy. New businesses, new marriages, exercise, health ... taking control for part two of their crazy, beautiful lives.
I'll admit to practicing my breathing along with the girls as Bernie teaches the basics of yoga. And throughout the book I underlined passages that hit home:
Once you bring a life into the world, your priorities change. You change. What you do becomes more important than who you are.
And I couldn't resist this wisdom of friendship:
"What I'm saying is we shouldn't be afraid to ask for help. Since we're closer than family, why don't we try to give one another one good piece of advice that might help us get stronger or whatever?"
It seemed completely right to me that the story ended with a theme song, joyful dancing and friends, happy together. Doesn't every good group of girls have a song and a passion for something crazy that they have the rights to?
As Savannah said -- or maybe it was Bernie -- "I think we owe it to ourselves to start doing as much as we possibly can to make ourselves as happy as we possibly can for as long as we possibly can ..."
Words to live by... worth the time it took to get there, and yet the last page left me disillusioned. Suddenly we shifted from the characters telling their own stories in first-person dialogue to a stranger's third-person narration. It was confusing and uncomfortable. I actually muttered out loud, "Where on earth did this narrator come from?"
It left me with a feeling of disconnect and seemed almost as though someone abducted the original ending, whatever it might have been. I don't want to sound harsh. I enjoyed getting to know Savannah, Bernadine, Gloria and Robin. There were times, however, that I wanted more -- or less -- of what they had to offer.
It took me a long time to find the happy in this book. And at the end, it was snatched from my grasp.