Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Mothers' Work Is Never Done in Terry Mcmillan's New Novel

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Mothers' Work Is Never Done in Terry Mcmillan's New Novel

Article excerpt

From the overblown tragedies of playground brush burns to similarly inflated episodes of high school heartbreak, there's no better balm for the wounds of life than the comfort of a mother's love.

For mothers used to balancing the weight of loved ones' conflicts on their shoulders, a moment to drop the load without worrying who will pick up the pieces is all the affirmation they could ever ask. In "Who Asked You?," best-selling author Terry McMillan's latest novel, the ongoing journey of parenthood is stretched to the limits for four women who, despite their best efforts, spend what should have been their first years as empty-nesters wondering if their children will ever spread their wings.

A far cry from Ms. McMillan's 1987 novel, "Mama," which explored parenthood through the lens of a poor single mother who admittedly fell short of the emotional role expected of her, the mothers in "Who Asked You?" don't turn to socioeconomics to pinpoint their children's shortcomings.

Betty Jean -- the 56-year-old mother of an addict daughter who abandons the care of two young sons, a son incarcerated for a carjacking and another son so ashamed of his former neighborhood he refuses to bring his wife to visit-- lives in a working-class Los Angeles neighborhood with her bedridden husband of nearly 40 years. The notion of drugs and gang activity affecting her children's growth is raised only during a chapter that also mentions a lack of hugs and Betty Jean's saying the "F" word "five or six or 10 times" as potential roots of their demise.

Tammy, a white woman who is Betty Jean's best friend and neighbor, welcomes into her home a 23-year-old daughter, her out-of- work boyfriend and a racist brother who cut her off after she married a black man. Venetia, Betty Jean's sister and the only member of the crew whose children have actually left the house, plays the role of a cuckolded mother hen to a rich husband. …

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