Tuesday, January 18, 2011

To Have or Not to Have: An African American fiction section

I shopped for Terry McMillan’s Getting to Happy a few weeks ago. Initially, I had a hard time finding the book. My first instinct was to go to the fiction section but it was not there. I only found it after scouring the bookstore and making it to the African American fiction section. That experience did not stand out for me at all---that is, until I read the book.

After reading the novel, I could not see how it needed to be in any other section than fiction--perhaps, women’s fiction but fiction nonetheless. The novel dealt with menopause, divorce, children, adult children (a whole other ball of wax) and friendship. I struggled to see how those things were strictly African American in nature.

The only thing in the book slightly unique to African Americans may have been the feelings toward Hurricane Katrina and George Bush during that time. Not much else. But even with that, I don’t see how it qualifies as African American fiction because as with any other novel what you see on the page is unique to the group of people you reading about--not all people. Yes, obviously other people can relate hence the book sales. But any novel gives you an experience unique to the group of people on those pages. Not all African Americans hated George Bush because of Hurricane Katrina just like not all teenagers experience the same YA story.

Perhaps, some books qualify as African American fiction. It just seems to me that it should take more than the mere presence of African American characters---who experience the same things as any other group of people. I’m thinking books along the lines of the works of Alex Haley.

So I ask you, how do you feel---as a reader. Is there a need for an African American fiction section or not? Do you find it helpful because it tells you what to expect when you buy the book? Or do you think the topics are relevant enough to women’s fiction that it does not need a section all its own? Do you think all books written by African Americans should be in the African American fiction section or only certain ones dealing with issues unique to African Americans?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A review: Getting to Happy by Terry McMillan

Getting to Happy By Terry McMillan
U.S. $27.95
Copyright 2010
African American fiction
Published by Viking Peguin


Terry McMillan wrote Getting to Happy as the sequel to Waiting to Exhale. I read Waiting to Exhale back in the 90’s and saw the movie. It was one of the rare occasions in which I felt the novel actually made it to the big screen with its essence in tact. So I read Getting to Happy purely to see what the girls were up to almost 10 years later. I did not read it because I thought it would be great---sequels rarely are. They always seem to disappoint me by not living up to the original. So I merely read this book out of curiosity. Did Robin ever find a man? What happened to Bernadine and the man played by Wesley Snipes? Well, all of those questions were answered and more.

The realism worked in the novel’s favor. It started off very real. The women remained friends but hardly saw each other. I liked that. When kids and husbands come into the picture, realistically, it becomes very hard to see your friends. Getting to Happy acknowledged that. I loved Sex and the City but they unrealistically met up quite often. In Getting to Happy, the women were not able to drop everything, like they did in Sex and the City, just because one of the ladies ended up in a terrible marriage or lost their job after 18 years with the company. They were not able to all go on a vacation together at the spare of a moment. Much like women in the real world, they had jobs and obligations.

The one thing that did seem a little far fetched was the way in which the women never saw each other because of their obligations but then everything in their lives seemed to take a turn for the worse all at the same time. It appeared as if these simultaneous tragedies came along to get them to the point where they were able to see each other more often. But that depends on how you look at it. There is, after all, a reason your parents tell you to be careful about with whom you hang out---because your life tends to take the same direction as the people with whom you associate. So from that point of view it is very possible that their lives would have all taken a turn for the worse at approximately the same time.

From neither a good nor bad standpoint, Katrina played a major role. It set the time frame for the novel unlike anything else in it. Once that catastrophic event stepped foot on the pages, it became very apparent to the reader when the novel took place. Before that, it could have occurred at any point in time.

It was weird reading about a real life event in a fictional story. The whole world already knows how that played out. But more interestingly, the worldview of the event has changed. Looking back on it now, after the nation has analyzed it and given George Bush some slack, the situation presents a very different outlook. But McMillan captured the essence of how the nation, and African Americans in particular, felt at the time.

Overall, Getting to Happy gets 4 1/2 stars out of 5. Not for being revolutionary like Waiting to Exhale was back in its day but because McMillan wrote a satisfying sequel for the fans of the story line, which is not something to be overlooked.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Up Next: A Review of 'Getting to Happy' by Terry McMillan

I guess the title of this post tells you all you need to know. I'm currently reading Getting to Happy by Terry McMillan, the sequel to Waiting to Exhale. I know. Some of you are too young to have enjoyed Waiting to Exhale back in the 90's but to those of you who aren't, stay tuned for next week's review of the next chapter in the lives of Savannah, Bernadine, Robin and Gloria.

I'm on page 108 of 373.

Happy Reading!