The Dangers of Staying Forever Teenaged…

Author: Terry McMillan

waiting to exhale coverAcclaimed as the inspiration for Sex in the City (admittedly a movie/show that I have never watched), Terry McMillian’s Waiting to Exhale is supposedly an intimate, honest novel for women. Following the lives of four African-American 30-something women, the narrative delves into the issue of loneliness and finding the right man. Examining issues of race along the way, the story segways into a discourse on the inadequacy of the black male (specifically) and immaturity of men in general.

Bernadine is supposedly happily married with her big fancy house, her children, and her handsome husband. However, when he drops the bomb that he’s leaving her for a white woman (during morning coffee no less), Bernadine suddenly finds herself in a messy divorce. At the time in her life when she expected to have the stability of marriage and family, she’s now alone and more than a little crazy. Indulging in everything from chain smoking to home wrecking, Bernie becomes a wild woman in celebration (or perhaps confusion) over her sudden “freedom.” Meanwhile, her sexy new attitude is both stunning and a little terrifying to her friends.

Savannah, Bernie’s friend, is now moving to Arizona, hoping to find a better job opportunity. In reality, she’s looking for a better pond to fish in dating wise. Beginning the book, her first foray on New Year’s is both hilarious and compellingly vulnerable. Her experience at a boring party with a man who isn’t serious is relatable, and establishes readers into the general heart of the narrative. However, Savannah’s leg’s open policy and general inability to see the forest for the trees soon leaves readers exasperated. As the narrative goes on, her continual flings with married men and guiltless conscious, make her no better than the women she supposedly hates.

Gregarious, outgoing, ostentatious Robin is the life of the party – and pretty much every man’s bedroom. Like Savannah, Robin has exquisitely terrible taste in men. Falling for the two-timing, just married Michael (an old on again and off-again flame) Robin is smitten with the wrong man even though the right one is within her reach. The right man, however, is fat and not good in bed. Robin’s repulsion at his fleshy looks and her exasperation that he doesn’t know how to properly “do the nasty” overcome her better judgement and once again, she’s chasing after the cads and wannabe players. Meanwhile, her ex-marriage prospect begs to treat her like a princess leaving readers ready to hurl the book across the room, exclaiming “This is why you’re still single Robin!!!” Also, wow, way to go on bashing people for their looks and for being overweight. If this character had been a man, talking about his disgust at making love to an overweight woman, I sure wonder how long the positive reviews would last. Double-standard, much?

And then, there’s Gloria. Fat, frumpy mother and business woman of a hair salon specializing in weaves and the like, Gloria is the only level headed character on the playing field, and the only one not so desperate that she takes anything. Sadly, Gloria is also kind of – – – well, boring. She’s just there, having occasional arguments with her teenage son Tarik who has just discovered sex. Gloria’s fine with his promiscuity, so long as he uses protection, right up until the moment she catches him with a white girl. Meanwhile, surrounded by a sea of white people, a new (and attractive!) black man moves in next door, and readers are glad to see that the one character deserving of a happily-ever-after just might get one.

Populated with teenage antics, Waiting to Exhale fails to capture (at least to me) the actual way thirty something (and late twenties) women act like. And before you go saying “what do you know,” I happen to be a late twenties woman myself (hence my interest in the story.) The ladies, despite an incredible variety of experience with different kinds of men don’t seem to be as worldly nor as with it as a woman this age usually are. They’re still falling prey to the traps that catch inexperienced girls and still chasing after the players, partiers, and “bad-boys.” Of course, inevitably, this goes horribly wrong and the women are left alone and increasingly desperate. This leads to a lot of back-stabbing and makes the novel, in my opinion, very anti women’s relationships. Each character, with the exception of Gloria, has multiple affairs with married men. Only half the time are they even serious about these men. The rest of the time, it’s merely to scratch an itch (as the saying goes) and have some fun. With the constant battle to take someone else’s man and the cavalier attitude about it, the women’s moans that men just aren’t loyal seem downright ironic. The solidarity of the females and the “you-go-girl” relationship paradigm, espoused as such a strong bonding force, seems fatally flawed with this all-for-one mentality. Beyond that, just pure practicality makes readers think that if the sole objective is to get and keep a man a married one is not a likely proposition and, even if the character was to get him, obviously not a sure bet. If they do it with you, they’ll do it to you and all of that. Have these ladies no knowledge of how the world works?

The nasty immaturity of the tale is further showcased by the women’s mean comments both to and about one another and the various men in their lives. Everything has a sad tinge. The bluntness, while sometimes (very rarely) amusing, is mostly virulent bitterness and the mean shows through. Combine this with the actions of the characters, and it’s pretty easy to lose interest early in the narrative. The exceptionally slow pacing and dead-end conclusion make the pointlessness a downright in-your-face insult.  After spending 448 pages in this uncomfortable, tragic world, the grand reveal all is essentially that Waiting to Exhale is a novel about nothing where nothing happens, no one changes, and life just plods on from one disappointing day to the next. Inescapably sad, all those acclaimed feel good vibes, side splitting laughs, and close female friendships are revealed as hollow lies in a meaningless world where characters seek what they themselves could never give: love and loyalty.

*A Note on Edition: I listened to the unabridged audiobook read by Dorothy Gray. This is pretty much my only positive experience with my novel because Gray can read. As a matter of fact, I wish she’d narrate my life. She breathes character into the voices and the dialogue. Hearing her reading is a pure pleasure. I hope to encounter her narration again – hopefully in a book I like.

–        Frances Carden

Follow my reviews on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/xombie_mistress

Follow my reviews on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/FrancesReviews/

[AMAZONPRODUCTS asin=”0451233425″]
Frances Carden
Latest posts by Frances Carden (see all)