Sitting Down with Old Friends
Getting to Happy is like a high school reunion for the readers of Terry McMillan's successful book-turned-movie, Waiting to Exhale. Like many of the people in your graduating class, you might not have thought about Savannah, Bernadine, Gloria, and Robin in years, but when you hear their names, you’re definitely curious about what they’ve been doing.
A sequel written fifteen years after the original has the potential to really disappoint fans of the original book, Waiting to Exhale, but McMillan’s jump into the future lives of her characters doesn’t disappoint. The four main characters have aged and evolved, found and lost happiness, but McMillan manages to keep the personalities and the spirit of the characters intact, which was a worry I had before beginning the book. It’s as though McMillan never lost touch with the characters; she flawlessly reenters their lives, updating readers quickly and with much detail, so we feel like we were almost there all along.
I have to admit I felt sad to hear about all of the hardships that had befallen Savannah, Bernadine, and Robin during the fifteen years we hadn’t been in contact! Gloria is unexpectedly blindsided at the beginning of Getting to Happy, adding to the overall downward turn on the emotional roller-coaster that the women have once again been riding. Instead of being disappointed, however, I chose to look at my emotional reaction as a testament to Terry McMillan’s ability to write characters that the reader truly cares about; hearing about their problems was like listening to the troubles of an old friend you haven’t seen in years.
As in Waiting to Exhale, the book alternates narration from the perspectives of each of the four women. Savannah and Bernadine narrate from the first person, while Gloria and Robin have their stories told in the third person. Undoubtedly, the reader gains more insight into each of the characters with the shifting narration, but it often took me a few moments to decipher whose first person story I was reading.
Getting to Happy shines most brightly when the women are together, chatting, supporting each other, and challenging each other. McMillan’s dialogue is immediate and realistic; I feel like I’m eavesdropping on conversations with real friends. I only wish there were more shared scenes with Savannah, Bernadine, Robin, and Gloria in their quest to find happiness.
With the four women beginning the book in fairly depressing situations, I found myself wondering at times if getting to happy was an impossible task for any of the friends. However, something I really enjoyed about Getting to Happy was that the focus seemed to be more on the self-realization of each woman as opposed to basing their happiness on the presence or absence of a man. While their relationships with men were crucial to their stories in Waiting to Exhale, the men in Getting to Happy were never really at the center of any of the storylines, which I thought was a realistic and mature viewpoint.
Terry McMillan has a way with character development and dialogue that really draws you into the emotional journey of the four friends, making this a reunion you won’t want to miss.