Terry McMillan may not be the most lyrical of novelists, but she does one thing very well, and it must be the key to her success: She’s fantastic at capturing the lives of certain African-American women. These women are middle or upper class, suburban, well-educated and take their right to be treated as full and intelligent human beings as a given. Still, there’s room for their lives and the insides of their heads to be delightfully messed up. Such is the case in Getting to Happy, a sequel to the iconic Waiting to Exhale.

The same four girlfriends are back—Savannah, Bernadine, Robin and Gloria. They’re middle-aged now, and dealing with bodies that sag no matter how much they work out, sudden health scares, shaky job situations and perennially bewildering men and children.

The book begins with a restless Savannah tossing her Internet porn-addicted husband’s computer into their swimming pool, and goes on to Bernadine’s financial woes and light addiction—if an addiction can be light—to over-the-counter meds; Robin’s man troubles and her relationship with her smart, funny and exasperating daughter; and the personal and professional traumas endured by Gloria, who has gone from single parent to doting grandmother.

Another of McMillan’s talents is that she can leaven even the most grim situation with a nice dose of unforced, true-to-life humor, and there are many passages in the book that will have the reader laughing out loud, as well as passages that will leave one a bit dewy-eyed. It spoils nothing to say that all’s well that ends well in the lives of McMillan’s spirited, potty-mouthed, tetchy quartet. Can we look forward to following them into vibrant old age?

 

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