Let’s take a look at A Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan from a writer’s perspective (the discussion for the novel began here.)
This post contains spoilers.
Summary: This novel is a peek into the dynamics of a complex and frankly dysfunctional family.
You might recognize some of Terry McMillan’s other novels, such as Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back.
Strengths of A Day Late and a Dollar Short:
Each chapter of the novel is narrated from the first person point of view by one of several different members of the Price family. Moving from character to character might be confusing in some hands, but Terry McMillan is adept at it. You can identify the voice of the featured family member readily. With an an amazing ear, she plays with slang, dialect, rhythm, and sentence length to give each character a memorable voice. They talk, think and act like a real, recognizable people.
How does the author change the voice of each character to make them unique? Let’s look at some actual examples.
Matriarch of the family, Viola Price
Viola is a strong-willed, opinionated woman and her words reflect that. They gush onto the page in stream of consciousness rush, with a few expletives strewn in like boulders to make her points.
“I have tried my damnedest to like George, be nice, act civilized toward him, but I can’t pretend no more… Janelle brag that he got over six hundred people working under him. I ain’t impressed in the least.
Her estranged husband, Cecil Price
Cecil has a bit of a Texarkana twang. He says “ain’t,” “thank” instead of think, and “everythang” instead of everything. (This must have been a nightmare for the copy editor.)
I shoulda stayed a little longer. I know I shoulda… Seemed like she wanted me to hurry up and leave. At least that’s my thanking on it. She said no to everythang I asked her.
Their oldest daughter, Paris
Single mom Paris supports her son with her catering business. Her voice is as clean and sophisticated as she can make it.
I also heard I’m a perfectionist. Which I will admit to: and proud of it. They make it sound like a dirty word. All I have to say is: don’t hate me because I’m organized.
Their second daughter, Charlotte
Charlotte was born on her mother’s birthday and sounds the most like Viola.
It’s times like this when I wish I hadda went to college. Hell, if I could ever find the time, I’d like to go back to school: at least take a few classes. Not necessarily for no degree.
Their third daughter, Janelle
Janelle is educated, although a bit lost in her own little world.
Of the three girls in my family, I’m the smallest. I should say, the most fit. I’m the only one who works out,…I’ve been trying to persuade Mama and my sisters — particularly Charlotte’s big butt — to at least try walking. But they’re too lazy.
Their son, Lewis
Lewis had a lot of potential when he was young, but gets sidetracked into a life of crime. For the most part, Lewis speaks in short sentences.
I got a job. But it’s on hold. I’m on disability right now. Don’t nobody in my family believe I got rheumatoid arthritis.
Once you see the patterns, it is easy to recognize which character is speaking in each chapter without them actually being named. This ability is not easy to achieve, and Terry McMillan deserves recognition for her ability to carry it off.
Public domain photo via Visualhunt.com
Weaknesses of A Day Late and a Dollar Short:
It isn’t a big weakness, but Terry McMillan’s novel comes across at times as a cautionary tale. Everything that can befall a family shows up in the novel at some point: illness, death, drug addiction, alcohol problems, teen pregnancy, incest, adultery, characters sent to jail, etc. It’s as if McMillan wants you to see how things can go wrong if you make certain choices, and how to avoid those in your own life. That isn’t necessarily a bad goal, but can get wearing over time without a bit of levity or hopefulness. Fortunately, things do perk up at the end as the family members start to turn their lives around.
I have to admit that I would never have opened this book if it hadn’t been part of The Bestseller Code 100 challenge. Mostly I was put off by the title, which seemed old-fashioned and a bit lame. After I started reading, however, I was once again reminded how first impressions can be so wrong. Now I can’t wait to read more of McMillan’s novels.
Why did the computer choose this book as one of the best of the bestsellers? Possibly because there is a strong theme of family and relationships, which was one of the themes mentioned as being important. Also, I’ve noticed many of the novels it selected have been narrated from more than one perspective, or have different voices in different chapters. This one definitely fits that criteria.
Regardless of why the computer chose it, writers will find it an awesome example of how to develop characterization and realistic dialogue. It is a title well worth examining.
Have you read A Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan? What drew you to it? Did you like the title?
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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