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A Day Late and A Dollar Short.

A Day Late and A Dollar Short by Terry McMillan Viking, January 2001, $25.95 ISBN 0-670-89676-4

McMillan's fifth novel is a tale of family secrets, tragedies and triumphs. Set primarily in Las Vegas in 1994, this is the story of Viola and Cecil Price and their four adult children. The novel's central focus is on Viola, the 55-year-old omniscient matriarch, and her relationship with her family. "Can't nobody tell me nothing I don't already know," says Viola. "At least when it comes to my kids. They all grown, but in a whole lotta ways they still act like children."

Viola likens her brood to a variety of animals. Her daughters are Paris, the lion; Charlotte, the bull; and. Janelle, the lamb. Lewis, the only son, "is a horse who don't pull his own weight." Viola goes on to describe her relationship with her estranged husband as a 38-year "bad habit."

The novel begins slowly, but the pace begins to pick up about a third of the way in. Viola is recovering from an acute asthma attack, her most serious of many recent episodes. She compares her chronic medical condition to her chronic relationship with her family and muses: "It's a miracle I can breathe at all." As the clan rushes to her bedside, a family portrait begins to emerge--and it is not a pretty picture. Family members jockey for position within each others' lives, and old wounds resurface, for an often compelling story.

Organizational flaws may diminish readers' overall enjoyment, however. There are several loose ends. The Price family saga is told in the first-person voice of each character, a device that McMillan used successfully in Disappearing Acts and in Waiting to Exhale. But adapting the style to juggle the stories of the six main characters within the 36 chapters of this book can be confusing because of the ever-shifting voices and points of view presented. In addition, the chapter headings that mark the shifts are words or phrases that do not readily identify the speaker.

If African American men decried the images of black males in Waiting to Exhale, they will find that they fare no better in McMillan's latest novel. This, despite the fact that all characters--major, minor, male and female--with the exception of Viola's best friend, are flawed. The novel touches on issues of rape, incest, crime, teen pregnancy, adultery and homosexuality. McMillan's metaphors of chronic illness and dysfunction extend beyond the Price family to include the general state of black America.

A Day Late and A Dollar Short is about many things, including the lasting and often disparate impact of a family on each of its members. It is about reaching out and saying "I love you," "I need you" or "I appreciate you" while the opportunity still exists. It's about dreams deferred and dreams denied. It is also about measuring up to others' expectations and often coming up short. But most importantly, McMillan writes about the need for honest acceptance. Because, as Viola says, "friends come and go, but family is forever ... you don't have to like your kinfolk, but accept them--faults and all--because they're your flesh and blood."

Gwendolyn E. Osborne is a BIBR Associate Editor and a freelance writer based in Chicago.
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Osborne, Gwendolyn E.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2001
Previous Article:on the shelf.
Next Article:Shadow Dancing.

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