Waiting to Exhale Additional Summary

Terry McMillan


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Savannah Jackson’s sister Sheila tells Savannah about a business owner named Lionel, and Lionel invites Savannah to attend a New Year’s Eve party. As Savannah gets ready to ring in 1990, she reflects on her annoyance with Sheila and their mother, who have suggested that Savannah is miserable because she does not have a husband and does not live closer to her family. She realizes she does not need a man to validate her but admits that, as she broke up with Kenneth Dawkins four years ago, she wants to be in love again.

Even though she has already moved four times in fifteen years, Savannah is about to move again because she finds Denver, particularly the men, boring. The only person she knows in Phoenix is her college roommate, Bernadine Harris, but this does not prevent her from interviewing for a job there after visiting and learning about an opening in the publicity department at a local television station. Savannah is excited about securing the job since it will help her get closer to her dream of producing television programs. However, her new job will pay twelve thousand dollars per year less than her old job.

The prospect of a pay cut worries Savannah because it could interfere with her ability to take care of her mother. Her mother receives Social Security benefits and food stamps, but her monthly income is so low that she has difficulty taking care of her financial obligations in Pittsburgh, where she lives in a Section 8 apartment. At the New Year’s Eve party, Savannah sees Lionel and is attracted to him, but she becomes annoyed and leaves when she discovers he has a date.

Bernadine Harris has been married for eleven years. She is stunned when her husband John tells her he wants a divorce because he intends to marry Kathleen, his twenty-four-year-old white bookkeeper. Bernadine knew that their relationship was disintegrating and even wanted to end it herself, but she is still unprepared for the anger and dismay she feels when John tells her he has filed for divorce. At first, she feels betrayed because John has chosen to leave her for a white woman, but then she realizes that the real betrayal stems from John’s attempt to control her.

Bernadine looks back on her marriage and realizes that, at John’s insistence, she delayed beginning a catering business so they could develop his computer software company. After John Junior and Onika were born, John insisted that Bernadine stay home with the children. A few years later, Bernadine grew tired of being a stay-at-home mother and took a job as a controller at a real estate agency. She planned to save enough money to fund a catering business, but she never followed through on this plan. Now an angry Bernadine takes Xanax to try to cope with the pain of a failed marriage.

Robin Stokes is just as unhappy as Bernadine but for different reasons. She depends on psychics, numerologists, and astrologers to determine the course of her personal life, but nothing has prepared her for the disappointing relationship she has with Russell. She tries to convince him to marry her, but he marries someone else instead. When Russell stops living with her for a while, she gets involved with a coworker named Michael, whom she describes as overweight and uninteresting.

Gloria Matthews has decided that relationships with men are not worth the...

(The entire section is 1370 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In several ways, Waiting to Exhale is quite different from McMillan’s two earlier novels. Instead of two protagonists, there are four. Moreover, each of the twenty-eight chapters in Waiting to Exhale has its own provocative title, for example, “Venus in Virgo” and “Interstate Lust.” Each also has the kind of beginning, middle, and end that one ordinarily finds in a short story. The novel proceeds from episode to episode, unified by the interaction among McMillan’s four heroines, all of whom are successful women in their thirties living in Phoenix, Arizona, who are having trouble finding the right man.

Giving up on finding a man in Denver, Savannah Jackson quits her public-relations job and,...

(The entire section is 566 words.)