Still Waiting to Exhale: Getting to Happy is a Solo Journey
Terry McMillan's sequel to her wildly popular 1992 best-seller, Waiting to Exhale, does an effective job updating us on the lives of four old friends. Even if you have not read the first one, McMillan is so adept at capturing the humanity of her protagonists that any reader could feel right at home inside these women's heads.
Melding melodrama with raw emotion, McMillan ushers her characters into the final third of their lives, a time when youthful ideals need to be traded in for comfort and compromise. Or, perhaps, not. Battered and battle weary, these ladies still know what they want and the novel outlines what it takes for them to get from what they want to what they need.
On the whole, the book feels strangely static. Clever chapter titles render events that are meant to be shocking as merely predictable. Since the point of view ping pongs between protagonists, the reader often feels the sense of wading through filler text to get to the good stuff, depending on what he or she might consider that to be. Bernadine's struggle rings particularly poignant, Savannah's believable, if a little dull at times, yet Robin's ongoing saga feels tired -- and then all too pat -- and Gloria's misadventures are grossly glossed over.
In fact, Gloria is the character who deserves the most attention in this tale: it would have been so very nice to witness these women pull together as friends, learn and grow from Gloria's ordeal, yet this does not happen. Aside from the initial reaction, which is written from no particular point of view and details the almost ritualistic actions these women have learned to enact in the face of tragedy, each woman remains completely isolated in her own private struggle for the remainder of the novel.
Overall, this is a book about four distinct women rather than a book about enduring friendship. McMillan does an outstanding job recapturing their voices and also encapsulates the fact that, no matter who we have in the world at any given time in our lives, it is essential to always be okay about who we are when we are by ourselves.