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Waiting to Exhale

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Arizona is one of two states that don’t commemorate Martin Luther King’s birthday. That bothers the young black women in Waiting to Exhale, Terry McMillan’s clever, talky third novel. What bothers them even more is the dearth of eligible men in the Phoenix area. Trusting Robin, cynical Savannah, upscale Bernadine, and down-to-earth Gloria have the same kind of trouble: Their husbands, lovers, and dates are deadbeats, liars, phonies, and cheats. So they turn to each other for solace and support. Sisterhood is powerful. When the four get together to dish on their men, they can be funny, raunchy, and unpredictable. Worrying about their children, aging parents, or about a brother in Kuwait or one in jail, they’re moving, in a generic way. But when they drone on about bank accounts, charge cards, and brand names in a mix of yuppiespeak and down-home patter (”your black ass” and ”I hear you, girl”) they sound like a Cosby spin-off on a bad night. And the Arizona background is just that — a thin scrim of shopping malls and saguaro and racism coyly hinted at but never confronted. McMillan is a smart and sympathetic writer (Mama, Disappearing Acts) but here she’s just winging it. B

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