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Author Terry McMillan’s 50-something protagonist faces her fears

Terry McMillan’s latest book is set in San Francisco.
Terry McMillan’s latest book is set in San Francisco.

Friendship, love and infidelity are major chords in Terry McMillan’s narratives, and her latest offering, I Almost Forgot About You, uses them to make an ordinary story extraordinary.

Georgia Young is a 50-something optometrist who begins an assessment of her life and her choices after learning that a college lover, whom she still held close in her heart, has died. Although they hadn’t kept in touch, his death prompts Georgia to begin questioning everything, from her career choices and friendships to her relationships with her daughters and ex-husbands.

McMillan is a gifted storyteller. She uses dialogue and description to make the San Francisco community where Georgia lives come to life. McMillan is adept at capturing the frustrations and triumphs that come from a half-century of living and loving.

There are several love stories woven in: Georgia’s love for her BFF’s — Wanda and Violet, who have been together since college. Her love for her daughters, Estelle and Frankie, and their love for their mother. Her love for her mother. All are just as important as the love she has shared with the men in her life.

Her relationship with Wanda and Violet is a mature girlfriend relationship, where foibles and faults are overlooked and cherished. Violet is introduced when she tags along with Wanda to meet Georgia for a walk.

McMillan claimed her place in the literary world in 1992 with Waiting to Exhale.

“Violet is my other college friend whom I love like a stepsister, but I’m not crazy about her standards. For being so smart, she’s dumb as hell and gets on my nerves, but I just can’t bring myself to divorce her. She won’t let me. We’ve gone months without speaking, but eventually she always calls back. Or I break down and call her.”

McMillan claimed her place in the literary world in 1992 with Waiting to Exhale. That book spoke to 20- and 30-something women, particularly African-American women, as they fumbled through adulthood, relationships and marriage in the 1990s. Almost 25 years later, I Almost Forgot About You captures the restlessness that seems to mark middle age, the “what ifs” and “should haves.”

McMillan’s storyline reflects the seismic changes that have altered society since her early books. She touches on everything from same-sex marriage to the election of President Obama and the increased acceptance of interracial relationships. She shows the shifts in social norms through authentic dialogue and character encounters.

McMillan suggests that readers consider how they view the world versus how the world views them.

McMillan suggests that readers consider how they view the world versus how the world views them.

For example, it comes as a surprise to Georgia that her daughters have strong relationships with their respective fathers. Knowing how much their mother loathes her ex-husbands, neither has the heart to be upfront with Georgia.

Throughout the book Georgia is angsting over her career choice as if it’s a revelation that optometry isn’t her passion. However, whenever she voices her dissatisfaction, whether to her mother, a friend or even an employee, the response is something along the lines of, “Yeah, I never understood why you went that route in the first place.”

The cast of characters enriches the narrative, bringing nuance and clarity to scenes and moving the plot along. The moments with the men from Georgia’s past are particularly poignant as her emotions bounce from those of a young woman with a broken heart to those of a mature woman still smarting and determined to protect her heart.

Georgia’s story reminds readers who have clocked a lot of living that it’s never too late to reconnect and reflect on the past as they craft the future they want.

I Almost Forgot About You

  • By Terry McMillan
  • Crown, $27
  • Audio: McMillan narrates the audiobook (Random House Audio, $40).
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