A Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge. Author Terry McMillan is known for her strong female characters, specifically African American women in professional and/or matriarchal roles. If you’ve not read any of her books, I’m willing to bet you are still familiar with them, as many have been made into big-screen or made-for-television movies – Waiting to Exhale, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Disappearing Acts, and A Day Late and a Dollar Short.
This post does contain spoilers.
Strong Matriarchal Voice
As Roberta noted in #BookBeginnings, the first voice we hear is matriarch Viola Price, who quickly establishes herself as a woman with strong opinions and the will to voice them. She doesn’t takes guff from anyone and that includes her estranged husband and her four children. Maybe it’s no accident that none of her children live near her or that her husband has moved out and found a new, younger, less strident woman to live with. Vi is about as subtle as a steamroller.
Even though I didn’t know any African American women when I was growing up, I instantly recognized the voices of a couple of my aunts. The language Viola uses and her patterns of speech might be different, but her fearless and frank admonitions and advice to her children and extended family are similar to those I heard in my childhood from certain aunts. If they thought you needed a verbal slap upside the head, they didn’t hesitate to give it to you, whether you had asked for it or not. Don’t we all have at least one relative that calls it like it is? I believe this is why McMillan’s characterization of Viola rings so true. And even though Viola dies partway through the book, her presence is still a force to be reckoned with throughout the entire book.
McMillan provides Viola and Cecil Price’s family tree in the print copy of the books (there was not one in the Kindle version, much to my dismay) and, at the beginning, I definitely referred to this tree often to keep track of all the characters. Each chapter is presented from the viewpoint of another character, and they are all vivid, memorable, and believable. Because of this, it doesn’t take long before you recognize each voice right from the first few sentences of each new chapter.
The family tree is our first clue to just how dysfunctional the Price family is. Almost every member of the family has had multiple marriages and children from those multiple marriages. As the book proceeds, the Price family members experience a seemingly unending series of crises – teen pregnancies, an abusive step-father, substance abuse, jail sentences, infidelity – and that’s just in the first few chapters! Each family member does their best to hide these crises from their parents and siblings, presenting the “all is great” facade to the world. Viola does her best to hold the splintering family together, but she knows she may not survive her next asthma attack.
For a while I found it difficult to believe that so much could happen to one family in such a short time, but then I lost myself in the characters and ceased caring if it was believable or not. I only wanted to know what would happen next and if they would all come through the flames intact.
Letters from Viola
Even though Viola dies partway through the book, she remains a vital part of the story. I especially liked how McMillan brought Vi’s voice back in the last chapter. The entire family gathers together at Thanksgiving and they read aloud the letters Vi wrote to her husband and children before her death. It was an effective way to bring about a reconciliation. And though the ending might be too neatly wrapped up, as a reader I appreciated the feel-good ending. I wanted the Price family to have their kumbaya moment and McMillan came through.
I listed in my opening paragraph all the McMillan novels that have been made into movies. Amazingly enough, I’ve never seen any of those movies, nor read any of her books. I will be adding all of them to my “must see” and “must read” lists. That’s how much I enjoyed A Day Late and a Dollar Short. How about you? Did you enjoy reading about Viola Price and her family?
- Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
- Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
- Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
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What are we reading next?
If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.
The next book is number 73. The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf (2009) – Discussion begins November 13, 2017