Waiting to Exhale tells the story of four college-educated, middle-class black women who rely on one another to overcome a number of personal and professional crises. As a record of a year in these women’s lives, the novel goes back and forth in time to chart the paths that have led each woman to Phoenix and to become the sort of woman each is. In addition to telling the story of the women, the novel explores the social and cultural contexts of African American life in the 1990’s. McMillan focuses on a number of political and social issues that are in the background of these women’s lives.
Through the story of Savannah Jackson, McMillan provides some sense of the struggles many black women must endure to have successful careers. Savannah often telephones her mother and sister, who live in Pittsburgh. Her mother lives on Social Security benefits and food stamps. Savannah’s sister endures a troubled marriage and has often been on the run, taking her children to cheap motels but always returning to her husband, on whom she is dependent but whom she perhaps does not love. Savannah, knowing the difficulties her family faces, often does not tell them of her own problems, and she of all her siblings is the only one to send her mother money every month to supplement the meager Social Security benefits.
Robin Stokes’s relationship with her family creates an additional burden for her. Her father suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, and her mother remains firm in her resolve to...
(The entire section is 617 words.)