If you’re craving an escape from reality, look no further than Terry McMillan’s heart-warming and humorous tenth novel, It’s Not All Downhill From Here (Ballantine Books). 

The wisecracking, procrastinating Loretha Curry hates celebrating her birthday. To discourage her four BFFs from their latest planned celebration, her third husband, Carl, strikes a bargain with them. They must allow Loretha to spend the day alone with him in Palm Springs if she makes the self-improvements they’ve been nagging her about. She promises to comply because she’s deeply in love with Carl and is desperate for alone time with him. He makes her “feel forty and sexy” even though she’s 68.

Obsessed with aging, Loretha is a self-made beauty-supply mogul who lives in Pasadena. She is cursed with an alcoholic daughter, a jealous twin sister, an ex-pat son living in Japan whose wife and twins she’s never met, and a family who treats her like an ATM machine. With two prior bad marriages, she’s striven to be the dutiful wife, mother, sister and grandmother while balancing her ambition and underwriting her family.

A SISTERHOOD OF OUTRAGEOUS GIRLFRIENDS

Until tragedy strikes in Chapter One, Loretha has been living in denial about her own imperfections, but now they are staring back at her in the mirror. Fortunately, her lively sisterhood “has her back” on the bumpy road to rejuvenation. Her posse, Sadie, Pookie, Korynthia and Lucky, similarly struggle with family issues, affairs, addiction and ill health. For the past 50 years, these “crazy old ladies” have regularly met up to dish, dine and support each other through life’s messiness.

These girlfriends are so outrageous that the reader hungers for an invitation to their dinners featuring laugh-out-loud one-liners about Viagra, relationships and religion that counterbalance the heartbreak in their lives. Additionally, Loretha’s witty 86-year-old Ma is entertaining when she goes “all Oprah” on her by mailing her missives about self-improvement.

Through it all, Loretha’s faith in love, family, friends, and eventually herself, propel her past her grief, loneliness and weight gain, opening her up to new adventures. Although she’s in her Third Chapter of life, Loretha discovers that she can grow, and that old dogs can learn new tricks. There is no pivotal “Aha!” moment for Loretha; her self-journey is a slow, steady climb. In fulfilling her promise to Carl, she approaches her evolution in “baby steps.” Whether it’s exercising, traveling, attending church or reconnecting with family, Loretha views her world with a sense of insightful humor that makes her struggles feel real to the reader.

MCMILLAN’S “THIRD CHAPTER” CHARACTERS RING TRUE

As I read the novel, I couldn’t help thinking that McMillan, known for Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back, has also reached the Third Chapter of her own life. Like Loretha, she’s now 68, and she’s perceptive about the concerns of women of a certain age, which often feel uncomfortable. The universal fears of being attractive to the opposite sex, respected by your children, and acknowledged for your accomplishments, as well as dealing with age-related ailments, are addressed with wit and humor.

In It’s Not All Downhill From Here, McMillan not only provides inspirational lessons for her characters, but for the reader as well. She flips the bird at the societal expectations of aging women, making her characters sexy and fun. As Loretha concludes, we should “learn how to live forward instead of backward.” 

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Terry McMillan is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Waiting to Exhale, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, A Day Late and a Dollar Short, The Interruption of Everything, I Almost Forgot About You, and the editor of Breaking Ice: An Anthology of Contemporary African-American Fiction. Four of  McMillan’s novels have been made into movies. She lives in California.