No NYT, Terry McMillan Doesn't Write Sci-Fi

by Deesha Philyaw

So Terry McMillan has a new book out, and I don't think I've ever been soured on a review before the end of the first sentence, until now:

"To enter the singular world of Terry McMillan, best known for her groundbreaking 1992 novel Waiting to Exhale, is to step into a parallel universe where money is a relative nonissue..."

 Image via Crown

Image via Crown

Some, though not all, of the characters in McMillan's eight novels are professional working women. In this latest novel, I Almost Forgot About You, 53-year-old Dr. Georgia Young is an optometrist. So why should money be an issue? Oh, right. Because only in a parallel universe can money be a nonissue for black women. 

The end of that first sentence is also eye-roll inducing:

"...where friends are never too busy to drop everything and speak some sassy, nurturing truth."

Black women as sassy and nurturing? Now where have I heard that before... Oh, right. MAMMY. I'm not saying McMillan wrote Mammy characters; I'm saying that this reviewer relied on a racist trope to describe these characters, either because of intellectual laziness or ignorance of the cultural history behind the words she chose.

The review's last sentence returns to the idea that McMillan writes of magical unicorns:

"Though flawed, the novel is immensely companionable, and Georgia is as alive, complex, inquiring, motivated, and sexy as any 25-year-old. Maybe more so."

OMFG. This is not a compliment. Georgia is 53. Is she supposed to be dead, one-dimensional, incurious, unmotivated and frumpy? And 25-year-olds are known for being deep and dynamic? Why can't Georgia just be an awesome 53-year-old, period?

You know who would not have considered McMillan's protagonist to be otherworldly? A black woman reviewer. Seriously, New York Times... Tayari Jones wasn't available? Angela Flournoy? Tina McElroy Ansa? Bernice McFadden? Jacinda Townsend? Crystal Wilkinson? Diane McKinney-Whetstone?

Or any reviewer with the cultural perspective needed to not be surprised by black upper-middle class characters who don't have money woes but do lead interesting lives?
 

Deesha Philyaw is the senior editor for Maximum Middle Age's pop culture vertical, Back in the Day. She co-authored Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce with her ex-husband. With her latest husband, she shares four daughters. She's a bio mom, stepmom, and adoptive mom who writes about race, gender, and parenting. In all her spare time, she's working on a novel and a collection of short stories about church ladies.

Deesha Philyaw

Deesha Philyaw is the senior editor for MMA’s pop culture vertical, Back in the Day. She co-authored Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce with her ex-husband. With her latest husband, she shares four daughters. She’s a bio mom, stepmom, and adoptive mom who writes about race, gender, and parenting. In all her spare time, she’s working on a novel and a collection of short stories about church ladies.