WAITING TO EXHALE. Terry McMillan. Viking.
409 pages. $22. Savannah is close onto 40, caring, smart and, incidentally, quite attractive.
Robin, who relies on astrology and numerology to guide her through life, is totally accommodating when she meets a man these days.
For a good time, don't call Gloria, who is too busy rearing her teen-age son and running her beauty salon to find the antidote to her celibacy.
Don't call Beverly, either. Her husband hasn't run off with that young white girl yet. But he will.
Terry McMillan is writin' large in "Waiting to Exhale," as the author of "Mama" and "Disappearing Acts" reaches out for an even broader audience with a sure and sly comic novel about black women and the men who don't love them.
The four women are geographically situated in Phoenix while occupying the emotional terrain of the late 30s and early 40s -- years in which nothin' says lovin' like something in the oven if the timer is a biological clock.
Or, if childbearing is an accomplished fact, then let him be a man who comes home caring rather than one who is late for no good reason and still wants his dinner.
The four women share friendships so deep and abiding -- and so lacking in rancor -- as to test credibility, but Ms. McMillan propels them through life events of such convincing complexity that one comes to accept, even embrace, these women as they are presented.
Their trials and tribulations include Beverly's divorce from a man who thought to hide their assets before walking out on her; and Savannah's encounter with the seemingly perfect lover, a man who works hard to make her believe in his magic and then shows her his last trick when he vanishes. We are introduced to Robin's succession of exploitative, worthless men and frustrated by Gloria's reluctance to search for self.
Throughout, the exchange and interplay between the women reveal what it is like to come of middle age in an America where husbands and lovers, like serial killers, move on.
Not every note Ms. McMillan strikes sounds clear. The book has a manic edge and in the end too much comes right, imbuing it with the afterglow of an urban fairy tale. But "Waiting to Exhale" is a pith and vinegar read, sharp, dynamic and funny.