Hanging With the Girls
By Ashleigh Burroughs on July 07, 2011
Terry McMillan has obviously been doing a lot of that lately. I'm not sure she's Getting to Happy herself, since the acknowledgments paint a fairly bleak picture of her life, but her characters seem to have done it.
They turned on a dime. One minute they are wallowing in self-pity, the next they are checking into spas and rehab and airline terminals and men are dropping from the clouds into their lives. It's fun to read, even if it doesn't feel very true to life. At least not true to the life I've been leading.
There are many many wonderful pieces to this perfect summer beach read. The dialog is snappy and real and advances the story; not a combination many authors can manage. Somewhat formulaic at times, this is still a mostly well crafted book. I have some objections -- is it really necessary to start chapter after chapter with unconnected-to-the-last-paragraph-conversations which are then explained in the third sentence? -- but for the most part there's nothing that makes me want to scream. "Wasn't" for "Weren't" pops up, but maybe it's just the character's voice.
That's the kind of nit-picking criticism this book invites, because there's nothing very profound going on. It's real life writ large and personal and I loved it but there weren't many lessons to be learned. Yoga makes some people happy. Talking should not be allowed during movies. Teenagers are often wiser than we credit them and not everyone in the world will disappoint you. Life is too short to tolerate the intolerable -- whether that's your husband or the intolerant customer. It's okay to be gay and a parent. The government's response to Katrina was appalling.
The best lesson learned is that happy older women seem to have a cadre of girlfriends on whom they can rely. For all of you in your 20's and 30's who are reading this, take some time away from your kids and your jobs and your blogs and reconnect with the women you love. Believe me, you'll need them as you age.
Terry McMillan is lucky to have hers, that is for sure. No one could write as movingly about loss and anguish and trust unless she's been there herself. She chronicles the demise of a marriage with sympathy and pain, describing the crying that feels intimately and ultimately personal but is actually shared by those who've loved and lost and wondered why. The lack of focus when tragedy strikes, the pain that only your girlfriends can relieve, the absolute assurance you have that they will know what you need and all you have to do is lie there -– these jump off the page and into your heart. She's not manipulative, she's just very very good.
There are many light moments, too. I know you don't want to be depressed with your toes in the sand this summer and this book leaves you with a smile on your face. Terry McMillan understand that women of our age are “always getting repaired” and her take on dysfunctional shopping had me laughing out loud. I just wish it didn't seem like she took a left turn in the middle of the story and made everything come out all right.
I saw the ends coming and drifted through the second half with less enthusiasm than I'd hoped to have. In the end, it was a confection, something light and airy to pass the time while the airlines moved me across the country. I'm not sorry I read it, not sorry to have had Savannah and Gloria and Bernie and Robin in my life for a while. I just wish there'd been a bit more there there.
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