February 9, 2006

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The Interruption of Everything by Terry McMillan (Viking, 2005, 365 pages)

Marilyn Grimes has spent her entire adult life taking care of everybody else, and suddenly realizes that her children are grown, her marriage isn’t great, and it’s time to reclaim her identity. In her latest novel, Terry McMillan (How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Waiting to Exhale) once again brings us a strong black woman who must confront the truth and make some changes.

Marilyn’s life seems to contain every possible midlife cliché at once. She’s feeling hormonal but hates the thought of menopause. Her daughter announces she’s pregnant and is putting graduate school on hold to move to London with her boyfriend. Her son returns for spring break with his girlfriend but they don’t sit down to dinner even once, and her other son is too busy and broke to come home at all. Meanwhile, her husband has a crisis of his own: he buys a Harley and abruptly takes off for a resort in Costa Rica to “find himself.” That leaves Marilyn home alone to take care of Arthurine, her demanding mother-in-law who needs to be driven to Bible study and Bingo. Marilyn’s also concerned about her own mother, who seems to be showing signs of Alzheimer’s. She lives with Marilyn’s sister Joy, a drug user who can’t straighten out long enough to take care of her two youngsters never mind their ailing mother.

Although McMillan heaps the problems on, the book is never depressing or plodding. Rather, she treats the issues with warmth and humor. You aren’t made to feel sorry for Marilyn because she never wallows in self-pity.

Some of the lesser characters, however, seem like gross caricatures. When Marilyn seeks out her friend’s hairdresser for a new ’do, McMillan goes overboard. Hilarious as it is, the poor, dumb, lazy act serves no purpose other than to emphasize that Marilyn leads a privileged life. I could have done without this and a couple of the other lengthy detours.

The best part of the book is the dynamics of the key relationships. We witness genuine affection between Marilyn and Arthurine, enjoy watching Arthurine blossom, and even begin to have hope as Marilyn and Joy finally have a heart-to-heart talk. Marilyn never despairs, and McMillan makes you believe that in spite of it all, happy endings might be possible. B

— Irene Labombarde.

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