Terry McMillan is back.
The author of several contemporary novels, including “Waiting to Exhale” (1992), “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” (1996) and “I Almost Forgot About You” (2016), has just released “It’s Not All Downhill From Here” (2020), an absolutely perfect book for sixty-something-year-old women (and others) to read while quarantined during the coronavirus pandemic (or any other time).
I stumbled upon “It’s Not All Downhill From Here” three weeks after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s edict closing all non-essential businesses in New Mexico and requiring residents to stay at home. To say that I was suffering a touch of cabin fever by then would be to state the obvious.
In addition, as a 60-something woman constantly reading that the elderly, those 60 and over, were at an increased risk of dying from COVID-19 made me feel old in a way I’d never felt before. I felt as if my entire life were now behind me, with nothing left of value ahead of me.
What an antidote McMillan’s novel was for such a negative mindset. “It’s Not All Downhill From Here” chronicles a year in the life of Loretha Curry, a happily married, successful businesswoman who, as the novel begins, is about to celebrate her 68th birthday.
Loretha frets not about turning 68, but about having one more “surprise” party; she’s tired of the repetitiveness and longs for something different. Her husband, Carl, who seems particularly attuned to Loretha’s needs, whisks her off to Palm Springs for a weekend getaway.
However, before they can celebrate her birthday, Carl dies of a massive, unexpected heart attack, and Loretha is launched unwillingly into a journey of self-discovery and renewal.
With the help of her longtime friends, Poochie, Sadie, Korynthia and Lucky, Loretha navigates not only widowhood, but motherhood and aging as well. For years, the friends have gathered once a month for dinner and sharing their lives.
After Carl’s death, the friendship with these women becomes crucial to Loretha’s well-being. However, each of the women is addressing her own challenges with aging, including health problems and familial estrangement.
Throughout the book, Loretha and Lucky struggle to come to terms with diabetes, trying to eat healthy and exercise. Similarly, Loretha and Korynthia struggle with grown children who have substance-abuse issues.
In the hands of another writer, “It’s Not All Downhill From Here” could easily have become a somber examination of aging. However, McMillan’s wit and prose keep the book upbeat.
For example, McMillan writes of Loretha’s estranged twin sister, Odessa: “…she started to go to church like some people go to AA.” (p. 6)
I loved this book. I loved the characters. I loved their struggles. I could relate to them. What 60-something woman hasn’t struggled with body issues and weight gain?
Additionally, I admire the book; specifically I admire McMillan’s ability to balance so effortlessly the tragedy of widowhood and loss with the strength and resiliency of friendship. I wholeheartedly recommend “It’s Not All Downhill From Here.”
(Maureen Cooke has been writing, editing and teaching others to write for the past 30 years. Currently, she’s working on a mystery novel and a memoir. She’s a member of the Corrales Writers’ Group.)