Study Guide

A Day Late and a Dollar Short

by Terry McMillan

A Day Late and a Dollar Short Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

With A Day Late and a Dollar Short, Terry McMillan returned to a familiar format. Like Mama, the new novel is the story of a large African American family dominated by a matriarch. In fact, Viola Price’s extended family has so many members that, without the sketch of the family tree inside the cover of the hardback version of the book, it would be difficult for readers to follow the action. The novel is also confusing because there are six first-person narrators: Viola Price, her four children, and their father, Viola’s former husband, Cecil. However, this approach has the advantage of making the characters more vivid and also more sympathetic. Despite their flaws, they all mean well. Moreover, for all their squabbling, they do have feelings for one another. Unfortunately, none of the children will face the truth about themselves and their lives, and Viola knows that, until they do, they will never fulfill the potential that she sees in all of them.

The most successful of Viola’s children is her oldest daughter, Paris. It is Paris who frees her mother from financial worries, putting her into a new condominium and buying her the car that she desperately needs. However, Viola knows that Paris is desperately lonely. Moreover, she has taken to downing pills whenever she needs an additional spurt of energy. Viola’s middle daughter, Charlotte, is also well off, but ever since she was a child, she has run on anger. She is too stingy to...

(The entire section is 539 words.)

A Day Late and a Dollar Short Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Dandridge, Rita B. “Debunking the Beauty Myth in Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale.” In Language, Rhythm, and Sound: Black Popular Cultures into the Twenty-first Century, edited by Joseph K. Adjaye and Adrienne R. Andrews. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997.

Dandridge, Rita B. “Debunking the Motherhood Myth in Terry McMillan’s Mama.” CLA Journal 41, no. 4 (1998): 405-416.

Ellerby, Janet Mason. “Deposing the Man of the House: Terry McMillan Rewrites the Family.” MELUS 22, no. 2 (June 1, 1997): 105-117.

Nunez, Elizabeth, and Brenda M. Greene. Defining Ourselves: Black Writers in the 90’s. New York: P. Lang, 1999.

Patrick, Diane. Terry McMillan: The Unauthorized Biography. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.

Richards, Paulette. Terry McMillan: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.