Tananarive Due wrote an essay last year comparing “Scandal” creator Shonda Rhimes’s impact on television programming to Terry McMillan’s influence on the predominantly white publishing industry.
McMillan’s barrier-busting success, cemented by her 1992 novel, “Waiting to Exhale,” was built on stories with universal appeal that gave readers a look inside the interior lives of modern women of color. Her characters repeatedly hit rock bottom, but you just can’t keep them down. It’s unfair to categorize McMillan’s books as African-American or women’s fiction because women and men of every hue can relate to the flawed yet likable characters in “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” and “A Day Late and a Dollar Short.”
After almost three decades of success and celebrity, McMillan still knows how to please. Her new novel, “I Almost Forgot About You,” is another appealing multi-generational story whose chief protagonist, like millions of Americans, is a baby boomer trying to dance gracefully into the second half of her life.
Georgia Young seems to have everything. She’s a successful optometrist who owns her own home in the San Francisco Bay area. She’s attractive, popular and independent — yet completely dissatisfied with her life. After all, she says, “success and a good credit score can’t love you.” Georgia has two ex-husbands, is tired of sleeping alone and is ready to refresh her life. When she hears that a former boyfriend has died, she’s inspired to reach out to a handful of exes to see what became of them.
Georgia’s search for former lovers plays out against her relationships with her willful daughters, her feisty mother and her hot-headed girlfriends, Wanda and Violet. The transitions between these subplots seem at times to lack graceful segues, but the evolution of each of these relationships draws Georgia closer to finding a bright, new future. And she’s wiser than she thinks. “I’m getting old, Wanda,” she tells her friend. “We’re all getting old. Not old-old, but older, and at some point we need to be honest with ourselves and do what excites us instead of what looks good on paper.” Fortunately, she has options: selling her optometric practice, moving to New York, traveling the world, becoming an artist and choosing among all the handsome men who suddenly want her to commit.
Self-discovery, second chances and the importance of family are thematic hallmarks of McMillan’s novels, as is the rich and colorful dialogue that make her books so much fun to read. “I Almost Forgot About You” checks all the boxes for trash talk, steamy sex scenes, lots of laughs and f-bombs galore. By novel’s end, you’ll realize what a clever title McMillan has chosen. Georgia’s choices will have readers of a certain age looking at their own lives and agreeing with her that “sometimes you know in your heart it’s time for a change.”
Carol Memmott reviews for The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
By Terry McMillan
Crown. 355 pp. $27