Monday, October 21, 2013

How Stella Got Her Groove Back

1996, 1998 Signet movie-tie-in edition
Terry McMillan
How Stella Got Her Groove Back
Original price $7.99, purchase price $1.98
Falling apart paperback

As with Bridget Jones's Diary, the background to this novel is more interesting than the book, in this case quite a bit more interesting.  Middle-aged McMillan was inspired by her own romance with a young local man she met while on vacation in Jamaica.  They got married the year this edition (and the movie) came out, but he later told her he was gay, and, well, let's just say that McMillan did not end up as happily divorced as Fran Drescher.  

As for the book, well, I will admit that the actual romance parts of it are good.  (McMillan can make even kissing sound very lush and steamy.)  Unfortunately, I didn't care about the people in the romance, Stella and Winston.  He's offpage much more than he's around, but we get far too much of Stella.  I don't know if she's reflecting McMillan's own opinions, or if McMillan decided to make her an unreliable and unpleasant narrator, but Stella rambles on (often comma-less) about everything from her taste in music and literature (the moment when she dismisses Waiting to Exhale feels less earned than when Sinclair Lewis would mock himself 50 to 70 years earlier), to her seriously weird body issues.  On the one hand, she thinks women's genitalia stink and she "sprays" herself as often as possible.  On the other hand, she adores men's bodies, as long as they're not too white, fat, and/or old (over 50).  At one point, she asks her eleven-year-old son about his "little unit," including how big it is.  He shows her his pubic hair!

The "groove" in the title is not only Stella's love life (which has lately consisted of sex with a married man she dislikes), but also her work life.  The latter is neatly resolved when she's fired from her corporate job that she doesn't care about, except for the money, and eventually decides to design furniture, at Winston's encouragement, although the reader probably thought of it 300 or 400 pages earlier.  

When I said that McMillan does well with romance, I mostly meant the physical, swoony side.  Unfortunately, she makes Stella (who brags about her confidence) incredibly insecure, ready to break up with Winston whenever he's late or he doesn't call when she expects, or simply if he hasn't yet told her that day that he adores her.  She thinks she's being tough and independent, but she comes across as a worse basketcase than Bridget Jones, and that's saying something.  A divorced 42-year-old woman, one who has other men throwing themselves at her throughout the novel, should really know better.  Alas, I don't think McMillan knew any more than her protagonist.  

You can see why I find Once More with Feeling, where characters actually communicate and act like adults, my favorite chick-lit book so far.

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