The sparks fly in McMillan’s latest, a crowded family drama with two midlife crises competing for attention.
Marilyn Grimes suspects she’s premenopausal, but tests show she’s seven weeks pregnant. This is bittersweet news for the narrator, who has spent 23 of her 44 years being a model housewife and mother in her middle-class neighborhood of Oakland Hills, across from San Francisco. She’s raised three kids, now grown, while her engineer husband, Leon, has been a good provider, though the fun has gone out of their marriage. Then new tests show the fetus is dead, which is pure relief for Marilyn, though she still has her hands too full to focus on self-fulfillment: an MFA program, a business venture. Down in Fresno, her mother, Lovey, is becoming senile, and Marilyn’s much younger adopted sister, Joy, can’t cope: A drug addict, she can’t even raise her own two kids, Tiecey and LL, so Marilyn must periodically descend from what Joy derisively calls her “little Cosby world” to help out. That little Cosby world is topsy-turvy too. Not only has Arthurine, Leon’s far from senile mother, who lives with them, suddenly started dating, but one of Marilyn’s sons is home on spring break, bringing his girlfriend and a bunch of homeboys—and staid old Leon is turning into a homeboy himself, looking ludicrous in new baggy jeans. When he announces he’s off to Costa Rica to find himself and may be leaving Marilyn for good, she goes ballistic. McMillan is at her best juggling all these different characters. Bring ’em on! And the zingers are blistering. The second half is less turbulent, until news comes that Joy is dead. Marilyn must decide how to pick up the pieces while heartbreaking little Tiecey almost steals the show.
Undercharacterized Leon is the weak link here. Otherwise, McMillan’s combination of boisterous humor and real compassion, both for the old and the underclass, is deeply impressive.