A Day Late and a Dollar Short (2001)

by Terry McMillan

Despite its African American dialect, Terry McMillan's A Day Late and a Dollar Short is a universal story about family dynamics with all of their dysfunction. The lives of Viola and Cecil Price's four offspring, all past age 30, are a mess, as we hear in the chapters each of them narrates. Viola and Cecil have their own issues besides. Viola got so exasperating that Cecil left her, and he's living with a "welfare huzzy" who has three kids and is pregnant again. Viola's health is precarious; the next asthma attack may kill her.

The three daughters and one son are typecast yet still seem like they really exist. Paris, a single mother and successful entrepreneur, is the in-charge oldest whose hyperresponsibility has driven her to pill addiction. Charlotte, next in age, considers herself neglected and is jealous, angry, and prone to hanging up the phone on family members. Lewis, the only son, is a weak male, an alcoholic with a high IQ and low self-esteem who can't hold down a job. Janelle, the spacey youngest, is still seeking her path in life and was blind to her daughter's being sexually abused under her own roof.

Can they go to their family members for support with these problems? Not much chance; they are each another's worst critics. But the clever Viola uses her own decline to hold a mirror up to each of them and improve the family relations. Although the resolutions to problems — both individual and collective — seem too easy, they are nevertheless heartwarming.

McMillan lacks the gravitas of, say, Toni Morrison, but for a message conveyed with entertainment, she's hard to beat. Readers will chuckle over foibles they recognize in themselves and those near to them, and the ending may  impel some to seek more closeness with their own loved ones.


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