(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

How Stella Got Her Groove Back, a stream-of-consciousness first-person narrative of divorcée Stella Payne, examines Stella’s transformation from an uptight, materialistic business cog to a relaxed, self-confident, creative artist who trusts her instincts. Born in a Chicago ghetto, Stella grew up poor, but, pushed by first husband Walter Payne to exploit her University of Chicago M.B.A. degree, she has become a security analyst earning over $250,000 a year. She drives a BMW and a sporty truck, and she designs furniture for her home, a suburban mansion in a very wealthy neighborhood. Materialistic cravings drive Stella to go on endless shopping sprees: She defines herself by the products she uses and the styles and accessories she chooses. Her first impulse is to throw money and goods at those she loves. Stella, long divorced, has lost her “groove,” the fundamental sense of self that gives life rhythm and pleasure. She does not understand her own motives and needs, despite her economic success.

While her son Quincy takes a mountain trip with Walter, Stella, on a whim encouraged by her sister, vacations at a Jamaican adult resort, seeking sexual adventure as a change from monotonous routine. At the resort, she suffers midlife insecurities amid younger vacationers, whose activities include participating in risqué pajama parties, visiting nude beaches, and playing sexual games. When Winston Shakespeare, an engaging twenty-year-old Jamaican,...

(The entire section is 531 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Stella Payne is an ambitious African American woman who holds masters degrees in fine arts and in business administration. A successful analyst for a large investment firm, she makes more than $200,000 per year and has an impressive portfolio. Despite her accomplishments, she no longer finds her career satisfying and feels her life is simply boring and predictable. Anxious to get a respite from single motherhood, she watches her eleven-year-old son, Quincy, board a plane to Colorado, where he will spend a few weeks with his father.

Without professional commitments or mothering demands, Stella gropes for ways to fill her free time. Since her divorce from Walter, Quincy’s father, she has not found a fulfilling relationship. Though she does date occasionally, she considers the men she dates as boring, arrogant, or insensitive, and she cannot muster any feelings for them. Stella longs to talk to someone she cares about. She wishes she could call her friend Delilah, an impossibility because Delilah had died of liver cancer the year before. Desperate for noise to distract her from her own thoughts, Stella turns on the television and is immediately enticed by the Jamaican voice she hears beckoning her to visit the island. Duly persuaded, Stella calls her travel agent, buys summer clothing, boards a plane, and, after landing in Jamaica, endures the long van ride from Montego Bay to Negril.

Stella’s two sisters, Angela and Vanessa, have opposing reactions to Stella’s sudden vacation plans. Angela, who is four months pregnant with twins, thinks taking the trip is irresponsible and potentially dangerous. Still, she offers to travel to Jamaica with Stella, but Stella promptly turns her down. The two disagree about several fundamental ideas about womanhood. Stella believes women should be independent, and she cannot understand why Angela acts like her husband Kennedy’s submissive robot.

Sister Vanessa, however, is unmarried, adventurous, and nonjudgmental. She both supports Stella’s decision to go on vacation alone for eight days and applauds her for being brave enough to do it. Vanessa even offers suggestions for preparing for the trip (tips like how to pack and how to style her hair) and tells Stella she hopes she finds a paramour while she is there.

On her first morning in Jamaica, Stella goes for a run along the beach and then has breakfast. She notices a young, handsome man seated at a table near her, also having breakfast. They greet each other, and the man eventually joins her. Stella learns his name is Winston Shakespeare. He has just completed classes at Kingston University and has come to the resort area to find a job as a chef’s apprentice. Winston’s father is a surgeon and his mother is a nurse; for two years he had attempted to follow their wishes by studying biology at the University of the West Indies in Kingston. Uninterested in medicine, he decided he would rather study food preparation or hotel management. While Winston shares details about his life, Stella chides herself for being attracted to him. By the end of breakfast, she reluctantly makes plans to meet him at a pajama disco later that night.

Stella never has to worry about dining or lounging alone, as Angela suspected she would. In...

(The entire section is 1335 words.)