cover image Mama


Terry McMillan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $16.95 (260pp) ISBN 978-0-395-39974-3

Mildred Peacock is broke and has no future prospects. She lives in a dilapidated house in a poverty-stricken Detroit suburb. She has a violently abusive, alcoholic husband who can't hold a job but keeps a mistress. She has five children, though she's only 27. She's black. One would think that a book about this woman's life would be dreary. The surprise of this accomplished first novel, however, is its zest and its extraordinarily positive portrayal of an impoverished family's struggle to overcome its problems. The book will be compared with Alice Walker's The Color Purple, partly because of the fine quality of its prose and partly because some of the thematic materialwhat it's like to be a poor, black woman in Americais similar. But where Walker's novel describes how things used to be, McMillan's narrative is firmly contemporary. Mama is a solid performance. (January 15)