cover image Disappearing Acts

Disappearing Acts

Terry McMillan. Viking Books, $26.95 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-670-82461-8

McMillan's first novel Mama was highly praised; critics compared the author to Zora Neale Hurston. Naming the heroine of this second novel Zora may have been intended as an homage to that also gifted and black writer, but despite an abundance of flash and energy, this book lacks the depth and breadth to which McMillan aspires. This is a love story between Zora, an independent, aspiring singer who is said to teach junior high school (we never really see her at work) and Franklin, a sometimes-employed carpenter with an estranged wife and three young children (they're vague props). Life has been unkind to these star-crossed lovers, but they're both survivors. McMillan threads her politics through the narrative and her characters occasionally lapse into dialogue more appropriate for a position paper than conversation. In that sense, and it's not necessarily a bad one, this is an old-fashioned kind of novel, the kind with a Message. But in her effort to achieve authenticity, the author bombards readers with four-letter words, and the effect is both irritating and distancing. Though, indeed, real people talk that way, the question is: Do we want to read a novel with such relentlessly scatological dialogue? In the end, however, readers who are willing to immerse themselves in this gritty slice of life will count it an edifying experience. 25,000 first printing; movie rights optioned by Tri-Star. (Aug.)