Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan

Four black women in vivid dresses and hats
The characters are as vivid as the cover.

Waiting to Exhale is a powerful novel unlike any other I’ve read. I held my breath for fear that, unable to sustain the intensity, Terry McMillan would tack on happy ending.

I need not have worried.

Waiting is about four black women friends, each looking for a man who will be her sex partner, friend, companion, help meet, husband, and father to her children. So far, their men have rung up in the loser category.

Each chapter is a first-person account by one of the four women about what’s going on in her life, including her conversations with the others.

Readers can see from the women’s narratives that each of the four is intelligent, caring, and resourceful, respected at work and among her peers. Readers can also see that none of the four gives herself credit for her abilities and achievements.

Each woman thinks she can’t get along without a man who will take her breath away. Each fails to see that her heartthrob may take her for everything else she has, too.

McMillan gives the novel a psychologically sensible ending that’s just enough to make you hopeful things will get better for the four “sistuhs” who feel like your sisters by the end of the novel.

Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan
Viking. ©1992. 409 p.
1992 bestseller #9; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

This Freedom Examines Wife as CEO of Home

In This Freedom, A.S.M. Hutchinson tells the story of the marriage of two people who never fall out of love, but fall out of harmony.

bank signFrom her high chair, Rosalie Aubyn found the world of men exciting, the world of women dull. She decides to become part of men’s world as a banker — a striking choice in the early 1900s when women in offices were a rarity.

Intent on a celibate life, Rosalie suddenly finds herself passionately in love and as suddenly married to Harry Occleve, a rising lawyer.

Rosalie views running a home like running her business: As CEO she plans, hires, and delegates housekeepers, cooks, nannies, and governesses.

Although Harry is proud of his wife’s career accomplishments, he feels she needs to be more of a mother and homemaker. He sees their children are remote, undemonstrative, and unloving.

Hutchinson’s character portraits mingle precision with nuance. He relates the tale in a way that makes readers understand why each of the main characters feels and acts as he or she does.

The novel’s themes are timeless, but in the last 50 years they have ceased to be topics of real public discussion. Rereading This Freedom might be a useful way to reignite debate once more about the “proper role of women,” that loaded phrase implying a broad range of behavior with significant implications for society.

This Freedom
A. S. M. [Arthur Stuart-Mentet] Hutchinson
1922 Bestseller #7
Project Gutenberg ebook #6415
My grade: B+
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Dullness in defense of marriage: The Common Law

The Common Law is treatise in defense of marriage masquerading as a romance novel. Robert W. Chambers intertwines the two themes  but never succeeds in blending them.

Artist Louis “Kelly” Neville, a facile and prolific artist, is at work when Valerie West knocks at his door seeking modeling work. Neville hires her, finding her intellect, youth, and enthusiasm for life as enchanting as her form.

Valerie adores Neville, but enjoys the company of other creative people of her age as well. The artists all want to sleep with the lovely lass, but she’s giving nothing away.

Neville proposes marriage, but Valerie won’t have it. She thinks, rightly, Neville’s social set would snub him if he married a model. She offers to become his mistress instead. Neville won’t have that.

The characterizations don’t work, the implausible plot plods, and the philosophical discourse is depressing.

All the while they are bickering over whether they will or won’t marry, Valerie confines her caresses to the cat and Neville gives his kisses to his mother. I’ve seen more passionate displays by people selecting mangoes in the grocery produce department.

Finally Chambers resorts to drastic action in the form of two attempted rapes to wrap things up so his characters can live happily ever after and readers can find something more interesting to read.

The Common Law
by Robert W. Chambers
Illustrations by Charles Dana Gibson
D. Appleton, 1911
Project Gutenberg e-book #13813
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni