on July 23, 2003
Several years before "chick lit" became fashionable, "Waiting to Exhale" was published. While the four main characters are African American, the book transcends all racial, ethnic and national boundaries. All four women share one problem universal to the entire female gender: men.
Savannah is a PR executive who is moving from Denver to Phoenix to be near her best friend Bernadine. Bernadine has just been told by her wealthy husband that he is leaving her for a white woman. Gloria is the owner of an upscale hair salon for black women in Phoenix and the single mother of a teenage son. Robin is a very smart woman at her job at an insurance company and an incredibly dumb woman with men.
The book narrates (two of the stories are told in the first person, two in the third) the dating trials and tribulations of these women. Any woman who has ever dated in her late 30's will recognize the cast of characters: the married men who "plan to leave their wives," the men who have no money and no credit, the commitment phobics, the men who discover they are gay...
I would recommend this book to fans of women's literature: both serious and lighter. If you're a guy, you should pick this book up with caution!
on March 24, 2003
I watched the movie version of this book and cringed in my seat from embarassment! To think Forrest Whitaker (an African American producer) directed this rather sexually childish movie is a complete disgrace.
The book version, however, was much better than the movie although that's not saying much since the plot is the same:
LORETTA DEVINE'S character is a sexless, fat, loud Black woman with no life of her own (Hattie MacDaniel in Gone with the Wind).
WHITNEY HOUSTON'S mother actually encourages Whitney to sleep around -- even with an obviously married man (horrible).
ANGELA BASSETT'S character was in love with her marital status more than her husband & blamed her husband's White mistress for the breakup (childish) and Angela decides to destroy his possessions (what, instead of him?. Go figure.)
Oh, and LELA ROCHON'S character -- she equates sex with love, a surefire way to be on the losing end with ANY man.
So there's both the book and the movie. Is there any wonder these characters had the lives they deserve? While the author's writing is breathtaking, this book comes off as degrading to Black women and negative on Black males.
I am sure Ms MacMillian made a lot of money off this depressing stuff. Since her "success" there have been far too many mindless writers publishing books with pretty covers and NO real writing ability.
on September 17, 2002
Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan
After having read HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK two years ago, I've been looking forward to reading another Terry McMillan novel. WAITING TO EXHALE is about four thirty-something African-American women who have one problem: MEN.
Savannah is an executive who is trying to find Mr. Right. She always seems to think she's found Mr. Right, always on the verge of finding the man of her dreams, but she always finds out in the end that the guy is just another jerk.
Gloria is a very overweight but stylish woman who owns a hair salon in Phoenix. It's THE place for black persons to get their hair and nails done, and Gloria has done pretty well for herself and her young son. The man in her past is her son's father, a man she never married, but it seems that deep down she wants more from him than just a friendship.
Bernadine WAS married to a highly successful businessman, until he decides to take off with his young white bookkeeper and leave Bernadine with the house, the expensive car, and the kids.
And Robin is this highly intelligent woman that keeps attracting losers. Unfortunately for Robin, she has no idea they're losers. She seems to be totally blind to that fact.
There's a lot of humor and fun in WAITING TO EXHALE. As each woman deals with her own man problems, their friendships keep each either from going insane. I loved watching Bernadine as she set fire to her husband's BMW. I crossed my fingers each time Savannah met yet another eligible bachelor. I prayed that Gloria would find someone to share her life with. And I wanted to smack Robin around a bit, every time she went back to her loser boyfriend Russell.
I enjoyed this book a lot and had a good time with it. What I enjoyed about it the most were the characters: Terry McMillan writes characters that are so vivid in my mind that they jump off the page and become real. Even her most shy and most insecure characters seem to have such depth to them. I feel that she's got a gift that not all writers seem to share, and that is to make the reader want to know her characters, and if not that, at least we have a good idea what her characters are all about.
on June 21, 2002
The Buddha said: "Enlightenment is progressive disillusionment."
Is there anything more painful--or more artistically exhilarating--than when you realize a psychological illness has become a cultural paradigm?
I was completely turned off at even the thought of reading this book when it replaced the New Testament as the bible through which my emotionally toubled ex began reexamining her entire world (which in retrospect I see may not have been the author's intent) while we were in college back in 1992. Years later, before the movie starring Whitney Houston was done, another girlfriend of mine told me to read it, and stop judging it ignorantly.
WAITING TO EXHALE could probably best be described by the jazz music critic Albert Murray. It is a literary setting of women singing the blues, insightful both in the sad/funny and ridiculous events of the characters that could easily have you laughing as you turn the page. Insightful also, however, in how the four hundred odd pages of the book make you realize that, in respect to the conciseness of the blues, once you go past a novelist's version of twelve bars you probably aren't being honest. On one hand, it was great to see that in this long book there was so much more substance and dimensions to the characters that seemingly became one-dimensional icons for Man-bashing in the Black community throughout the 90's. On the other hand, WAITING TO EXHALE seemed to be as sexually/socially irresponsible and immature as it was non-judgmental or unapologetic, as words like "God", "virtue", "honesty", "addiction", "faith", "history","trust", "*condoms*," "therapy", "responsibility", "lesbian," "denial," "self-respect," and "AIDS" appear a WHOLE lot less often than phrases like "what's wrong with him?", "please; have you ever tried to (sexual expletive) a little (sexual expletive)?" and "he turned me out!"
Among the many things the book made clear in its time--from McMillan's writing style as well as its appeal--was how rampant sexual and relationship addiction had become in the fin de siecle Black middle-class thirty-something community. It is almost frightening how well she shows our community to be so completely assimilated to the Dominant (and most superficially secular) Culture's way of life that, when white people aren't around, we are often doing sociologically what the characters of the book are doing individually: staring directly into the abyss of our nearly non-existent political activism, and back on more of our youth and innocence lost than we can ever look forward to. Though she shows how true this is with today's Black women in a way that ironically smacks of a sad triumphalism, McMillan shows it so well in her writing that it is hard to ignore. This and the subtle levels of Woman's psychic inhumanity to Woman that is another core theme of this book, underneath the good times, are strikingly vivid to anyone willing to look at it.
In the end, though she has written some pretty financially successful works with a marketing strategy that glorifies the dysfunction in our community's relationships, I don't know if Terry McMillan is talented enough to write a book outside of these obviously autobiographical themes. Every writer writes what he or she knows, but I always that that was where the process of making art via craft begins, not where it ends. (In other words, don't expect your grandchildren to be reading her stuff in between the collected works of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker in Great Black Authors 101.) Just the same, if you have a free weekend and want to come to a greater understanding of the sticky complexity of male/female relationships, the Siamese twin Zeitgeists of American female codependency and Negro Heterophobia passing through the 90's, and the modern woman's heart all in one (without the clinical study feel of a book like Stanton Peele's LOVE AND ADDICTION, or Collette Downing's THE CINDERELLA COMPLEX), you will enjoy this. Her writing style is consistently raw and engaging (given the subject matter), and, more often than not--even for men--a lot of fun.
Make it your summer read it before you rent the movie. It is, as books vs. movies usually are, much better.
on January 31, 2002
Funny, witty novel about four women in Phoenix: Savannah is the unmarried buppie in search of Mr. Right at age 36; Robin is the ditzy bimbo who can't shake her trifiling lover Russell; Gloria is the overweight owner of a hair salon who hopes to find true love, and Bernadine is the mother of two kids and is reeling from being dumped by her husband for a younger white woman. This novel has been often imitated, but never duplicated. Many authors have tried (and failed) to top Terry McMillan's insightful novel, and they all come up short. If you've seen the movie, then you need to do yourself justice by reading this novel which goes into far greater detail than the movie ever did. It will broaden your understanding of relationships, regardless of your race, gender, or sexual orientation. And contrary to conventional opinion, this is NOT a male-bashing novel but rather a bold statement that the Sisters out there are mad as hell and are not gonna take any more nonsense from the Brothers. Highly recommended.
on April 4, 2001
I liked this book. Better than the movie. I felt the movie didn't address the issues each woman had with her mother. Part of the fun of this novel was comparing the characters with somebody you know, or trying to figure out who was the most like you. I really felt for Bernadine. What her husband tried to do was about as low as you can get. The shame is that there are so many men out there like that, who, even though it may be over between them and the ex-wife, no longer give a hoot about providing for their children either. How they can treat a child they helped to create like garbage is beyond me. Savannah and Robin where both a trip. They felt like they had to have a certain type of man to define themselves. The character that I liked the best was Gloria. Maybe because she wasn't a size six, and seemed more real and down to earth to me. Actually, I think a whole book could have been done just about Gloria and what went on in the hair salon! I would absolutely say to read the book, even if you saw the movie. You'll like the read better.
on February 7, 2001
They say that the phoenix rises from its own ashes and is reborn. With much of the action of this book taking place in Phoenix, Arizona, the four leading characters all experience a fall and rebirth.
Without giving away too much, Gloria comes closest to a literal death and rebirth because of her health problems. I love happy endings, and Gloria has one.
Bernadine's fall occurs very early in the story, when her husband abandons her for a younger woman. Her war is fought in the courts, the "bad guy" being her lying, sneaking husband who is trying to keep all his money away from Bernadine and the children.
Savannah and Robin are similar in that they both fall for great looking men, and give away too much of themselves too soon. Their resurrection is one of the spirit, when they learn to stand up for themselves and stop being doormats to handsome men.
All four of these main characters are black women in their late 30s, and the biggest complaint in their lives is that black men are selfish, deceitful, arrogant, etc. Fortunately, Gloria and Bernadine find out that it isn't always that way. There are some gems out there. As for Savannah and Robin, they learn to re-evaluate their priorities. With superficial values like a handsome face and a chiseled body, you are bound to end up in a superficial relationship.
This book is very easy to read. At first I misunderstood the author and disliked her characters because two of them were so annoyingly superficial, craving one pretty-boy or another, defining men in terms of looks only. But I'm glad I stuck with it, because I see that the author felt the same way as I do.
If you want to find a moral here, it is that a woman really shouldn't sell herself cheap. She doesn't need to lay down with every handsome guy she meets, the day she meets him.
on May 2, 2000
I think that many women have at some point been in one of the four main characters shoes. We've all been dumped for another woman. We've all made stupid decisions in relationships and we've all put ourselves in a self-defeating relationship at one point in time. I'd love to meet the woman who was born perfect - born with all the right ideas about love and relationships. Sure, I wanted to tell Robin and Savannah to stop slutting around but it didn't make me angry or annoyed with the book. I noticed that many of the other reviews expressed that they became angry with the book because of the premiscuous behavior that some of the characters were involved in. Those of us who have been lucky enough to realize that sex does not equal love should applaud Terry McMillan for showing this to other women who are behaving like Savannah and Robin. Furthermore, for those of us who have been in Bernadine's shoes I was so glad to see that there was light at the end of the tunnel - that she rediscovered herself and she rediscovered love with the RIGHT man. A worthwhile read for ALL women. No matter what race or lifestyle we lead every one of us faces similar struggles.
on September 29, 1999
I am amused at the nasty one star reviewers who feel that Waiting To Exhale is ONLY about black people, a kind of press conference for inter racial subject matter. Have you ever read Moby Dick? If so, I am here to tell you that is not about whales, not really-- and it is not about White whales either. I don't have time to teach the alphabet to nasty folks but I will try: Waiting To Exhale is a NOVEL. NOVELS are not to be taken literally, they are creative expressions. I can just see the surprised look on some simple faces -- go back to your Nickelodean, don't even bother with literature, stick to HIGHLIGHT magazine, and maybe -- maybe -- Goodnight Moon. Anyway I loved it; laughed out loud even the second time through. LOVE her way with dialogue and character. McMillan is a fresh and powerful voice who has, because of her extreme success and popularity, become a sometime target for the bitter and the jealous, not to mention the feeble. Spike Lee wrote a lengthy book jacket quote for the book, in support of Ms. McMillan, addressing the Black male issue as it pertains to the book, and perhaps this should be enlightening to those who care to look further. Spike Lee is not in the habit of suffering fools or racism -- so get a clue. His support and the support of thousands of loyal fans (black, white, red, yellow and purple) should prove that McMillan is a talent -- yes indeed, there are some who know how to read, not REED.
on June 9, 1999
I read this book about 4 years ago when I was 16, and might I add very STUPID. To think that when I was that age(16) I thought that the women in this book, is what you grow up to become. How ridiculous.I just watched the movie 2 weeks ago. And I was so disappointed that these women where 30 years old and they were worse than anybody my age(20) with men. It was so sad,it took them entirely to long to get it together and realize that you won't ever find anyone in this world to fill up your broken places,[except(what I believe from experience)but God!] That just goes to show you that though adults may be older,they may not necessarily be wiser. Miss Mcmillan is an EXCELLENT writer though,with her characters being as realistic as they come because I have heard,met and read(biographies),and been friends with women such as these.It sad that art truly does imitate life,as proven in this book. The writing was descriptive and very detailed but the characters I would love for them to truly have gotten it COMPLETELY together in the end!