Great storytelling with one catch: no plot. But McMillan's trademark earthiness and wonderful dialogue more than compensate....


A great big family with “nothing in common except blood.”

Viola Price, 55, is a barbecue entrepreneur, mother of four, and grandmother many times over, thanks to the four children she “had so fast they felt more like a litter, except each one turned out to be a different animal”: Paris is a successful caterer and cookbook author with a taste for the best in life, including men; Charlotte, a tough businesswoman, owns several Chicago Laundromats; Lewis is an amiable alcoholic with rheumatoid arthritis; and Janelle, a housewife, is forever taking courses in interior decorating. When a sudden, severe asthma attack lands Viola in the hospital, the clan gathers in Las Vegas to be near her, eager to help and of the belief that their father's unexpected desertion triggered the attack, even though their mother insists that it happened because she was, as usual, worrying about them. Which doesn't change the fact that Cecil Price says he just walked out when he couldn't take one more minute of her bossing and bad temper. Viola insists that she threw him out, but, regardless, Cecil is no more to her than a “bad habit” she's had for “thirty-eight years.” To others, he's an aging hipster, with a blossoming paunch and an outmoded Jheri curl mocked by all—not that his new flame, a “welfare huzzy” with three kids by different men, cares. Viola, though, has had it: she doesn't want Cecil back, not in this life or the next. Anyway, the children have other things to worry about: Paris is a pill-popping workaholic; Charlotte’s a control freak; Janelle seems to be oblivious to her own daughter’s emotional problems, and Lewis is just plain drowning in a river of troubles. Nonetheless, Viola isn't shy about offering advice, and she gives everyone an earful—a favor they return. The reunited Prices squabble, swap life stories and some nitty-gritty philosophy, and get to know the best and the worst about each other all over again. Then they chip in to buy their ailing mother new furniture and a fabulous cruise to nowhere, until a second, fatal asthma attack fells Viola. Her legacy: four poignant, hilarious letters, one for each of the grown children she loved so fiercely.

Great storytelling with one catch: no plot. But McMillan's trademark earthiness and wonderful dialogue more than compensate. This bestselling author (How Stella Got Her Groove Back, 1996, etc.) has a rare gift for creating living, breathing people on the page.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2001

ISBN: 0-670-89676-4

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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