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.