For some strange reason, when I downloaded It’s Not All Downhill From Here by Terry McMillan, I thought the author was a male Canadian humour writer. Obviously I somehow got my wires crossed because Terry McMillan is, in fact, a black American woman who has written several books including the best-sellers Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back. You’d have thought the cover art would have given me a clue but sometimes I’m a little slow. Considering the current political and social situation in the United States right now, I was happy to accidentally stumble upon such a good book by someone I might not otherwise have read.
It’s Not All Downhill From Here is a baby boomer’s life story. Five friends who grew up together in Los Angeles have now reached their late sixties and are dealing with life’s challenges as they become widows, contemplate careers and retirement, cope with the problems of their adult children, and generally maintain their decades-old friendship. We can all relate to what they’re going through. Our bodies aren’t what they used to be, and our opinions don’t always coincide, but we love each other and support each other ’til death do us part.
The author’s choice of names for the women, their children, and their families took some getting used to for this boring boomer from Toronto. Loretha and Odessa are twins with different biological fathers (yes!) and the two sisters have a fractious relationship—one of those “mother always loved you best” conflicts. Their elderly mother has the wit and wisdom of Sophia on Golden Girls and gets some of the best lines in the book. Loretha, a.k.a Lo, has a daughter Jalecia who is an alcoholic and lives a vagrant lifestyle with a remote relative called Aunt Peggy, a reformed addict. Jalecia’s daughter Cinnamon lives with her boyfriend and they have twins, a boy and girl called (are you ready?) Handsome and Pretty. It’s enough to make a great-grandmother dispair.
Another member of the girls’ posse is called Lucky. Her real name is Elizabeth Taylor but she was dubbed Lucky at a young age. She’s overweight, bossy, and a loud dresser. Her husband Joe lives in the guest house because she’s so difficult to get along with. Sadie is the born-again Christian in the group and they’re constantly reminding her to keep her Jesus-selling to herself. Korynthia, a.k.a Ko, is a tall, slim fitness instructor who’s always encouraging her friends to push themselves toward a healthier lifestyle. The fifth friend, Poochie lives in Las Vegas taking care of her elderly mother. She keeps in touch with the group through annual vacations together and FaceTime talks over dinner.
What I really enjoyed about this book is the universality of the theme. Women are particularly good at forming close circles of friends for support and mutual enjoyment. We love our girlfriends endlessly and can always count on them to be there for us when we lose a job, a spouse, or suffer a personal crisis. With the current racial tension in the United States, I took to heart the various references by the author of issues and experiences encountered by the women because of the colour of their skin. For example, when Loretha is stopped by a white policeman for an alleged traffic infraction, she anticipates a worst-case scenario and behaves accordingly.
Each of the ladies has their shortcomings, just like all of us. Loretha is the most affluent and I found myself wanting to be her granddaughter or somehow the beneficiary of her generosity. Their maternal love supersedes all and their mutual support is unbreakable. Their daily challenges parallel any baby boomer woman who is in her late sixties and trying to stay positive, active, curious, and relevant. One of their regular activities is an annual cruise as a group to reconnect and have some fun.
Early in the book Loretha makes a promise to herself that I actually made to myself not that long ago: “To be kinder to myself and to my friends because none of us is perfect.” Good words. They also acknowledge that the conversation at their get-togethers too often now revolves around health issues and the fact that one or the other of them has problems that seem to escalate by the month. Who among us isn’t dealing with cholesterol, blood pressure, or weight issues?
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It has all the elements boomer gals like in a good book—humour, friendship, loyalty, and the challenges of aging. You eventually get accustomed to the names. I’m so glad I happened upon It’s Not All Downhill From Here and I highly recommend it. Next on my list? Toni Morrison’s Beloved. What are you reading right now?
If you cannot find It’s Not All Downhill From Here at your local bookstore or library, click on the image to order from Amazon. Disclosure: If you order from this link you will receive Amazon’s best price and I may receive a teeny, tiny commission.