2005 Book Reviews
The Interruption of Everything by Terry McMillan
Rating: •• (Mildly Recommended)
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Terry McMillan’s sixth novel, The Interruption of Everything, introduces protagonist Marilyn Grimes, a middle aged African American woman who finds herself fed up, and ready for a pause. While McMillan uses Grimes to spotlight issues women face, including the burden of caregiving, a workaholic spouse, and changes to her body, much of the pleasure in this novel comes from the manner in which Grimes handles every twist and turn live brings her, with the help of a few close friends. Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter 3, pp. 27-38:
I arrive at my doctor’s office a few minutes late because the new but old receptionist neglected to tell me they had moved to a larger office two floors down. I didn’t say a word, just smiled when I signed in. She looked up when she saw me and said, “Still alive, huh?”
I didn’t think this was so funny but I winked at her and cracked a fake smile as I dropped my five-ton backpack on the floor and sat in one of eight uncomfortable lavender and gray curved chairs. “Is Dr. Hilton running pretty much on schedule, today?”
“As a matter of fact, she is, but there are two patients ahead of you. She should be able to see you in the next fifteen minutes. Give or take a few.”
I didn’t see anyone else in the waiting
room, so maybe she was already playing musical doors. I looked down at the
pile of women’s magazines, searching for a headline that might speak directly
to me: “Flip Your Fat-Burning Switch Instantly” Like right now? There.
It’s flipped. Onto the “no” pile. “Lose 10 Pounds in 48 Hours on the
7-Day Miracle Diet.” Worth a peek. It goes on the “yes or maybe” pile
to my right. “Buff Up Just by Thinking about Exercise.” Bunny, Miss Fitness
Director herself would have a stroke if I read this because I’ve been thinking about exercising for years.
“Go Dancing Now!” Okay. But who would I go with?
I continue my quest: “Your 10 Biggest Beauty Problems Vanish on Page 150.” I say aloud: “But what if they don’t and what if you have more than 10?” as I toss it on top of the “no” pile and slide all the rest of them over to form one big stack. Then I just stop.
Over the years, at the grocery store checkout, I’ve flipped through and read thousands of these articles, and by the time I reached the cash register, I’d already feel thinner, making it seem ludicrous to spend good money on the magazine. Last year I stopped buying them altogether when it finally hit me that in the years I’d been buying them, I’d never actually followed any of their diet or workout programs. I don’t even want to add up the number of exercise videos I have that I’ve never even broken the cellophane wrappers on.
If I had done half the things these magazines and videos had suggested, I would have been or would still be an emotionally balanced, picture-perfect mother of three in excellent shape who was also a great cook and who not only fulfilled her husband’s every sexual desire and fantasy but whose own would somehow have magically gotten met since she would have learned to ask for what she wanted, but this of course was assuming that I did in fact get it, which has turned out not to be the case.
I look at my watch. It’s two forty-three. I clear my throat, get up, and get some water from the dispenser.
“Mrs. Grimes, did you bring the questionnaire Dr. Hilton asked that you bring with you?”
I knew it was something I was supposed to remember to bring! “I forgot it.”
“Many do. Here’s another one. Fill out as much as you can, as quickly as you can and I’ll put it in your chart.”
The form required that I check “yes” or “no” if I had been experiencing any of the symptoms noted below, and there was room for explanation, if I thought it necessary.
Memory Lapses? Yes. Mostly words. My once fertile vocabulary has shrunk to that of an eighth grader and I find myself using profanity to compensate. Sometimes it feels just like it did when I smoked an occasional joint in college: I can walk into a room and completely forget what the hell I went in there for; open the fridge and stand there for long minutes wondering what it was I wanted. Sometimes I actually feel like I’m going nuts, but I know I’m not because if I was, I wouldn’t be thinking I was going nuts. Plus, I don’t have enough good reasons to go nuts. At least none I can remember.
Hot Flashes? Yep. It’s only been the past six or seven months, but it seems like they’ve evolved: it started out feeling like the inside of my body was being dabbed here and there with mild salsa and then a thick layer of very hot salsa. Now, I’ve had to switch from cappuccinos to decaf iced lattes because the combination of caffeine and hot liquid lingered inside me long after it passed through my body.
Mood Swings? Yes. For years I was just your average PMSer, but according to my mother-in-law: once a bitch, always a bitch.
Trouble Concentrating? Who doesn’t? But I always have: on things I didn’t want to spend too much time thinking about anyway.
Vaginal Dryness? Yes. Hah! Only when
Temper Changes? While driving I tend to scream at people, especially on the 680 South and it’s probably a good thing I don’t own a gun because if I did, over the past year, I probably would’ve used it. I am not a violent person and I’m afraid of guns so I know something’s going on. Things that used to not even faze me now get on what’s left of my nerves: waiting in any line for anything longer than thirty seconds, the blond woman on Entertainment Tonight who smiles incessantly; boring people who think they’re interesting; sidewalks that end for no reason; cell phones ringing in public places and everybody reaching in their purse thinking it’s theirs; children in cars with a parent smoking and those with no seatbelts on but Mom is strapped in. And just because I know there are still more questions ahead, Arthurine’s dingy-white toy poodle—Snuffy—(who should probably be dipping it), who’s deaf, has arthritis, low thyroid and is too fat to walk up the stairs. Sometimes I have to carry him for her and he stinks because he has a hard time going not to mention giving him an arsenal of pills twice a day. Okay, STOP IT, Marilyn, RIGHT NOW! Move on!
Do you know at what age your mother went through menopause? No. And what difference does it make? As soon as I hear myself think this, I realize how stupid it sounds even in my head.
“Excuse me,” I say to the receptionist. “I’m sorry, what’s your name?”
“Almost. Nancy, I was wondering if I have five more minutes of waiting, and if so, I can call my mother to get the answer to this one question. . .“
“Dr. Hilton has had an unexpected emergency, but she’ll be back in the office in about twenty minutes, Mrs. Grimes. So take your time.”
I look at my watch. It’s now 3:05. It’s my day off. But I left clothes in the dryer that I could’ve folded and another load of whites soaking. I could’ve set the rhinestones on the lampshade I was making. I take my cell phone out into the hallway and then down the stairwell until I’m outside where I bump into a lemon tree but am able to get service. I dial Lovey’s number—which is what she’s always preferred to be called rather than Mama. When she answers, her voice is barely audible. “Lovey?”
“Yes, this is me. Who is this?”
At first I think she’s kidding.
“Who does it sound like?”
“I ain’t got time for games, so spit it out before I hang up this phone.”
“It’s me, Marilyn, Lovey.”
“Then why didn’t you say so? What can I do for you?”
“I’m at my doctor’s office and she wants to know how old you were when you went through the Change.”
“That’s a very personal subject, Marilyn, and a very private matter and like I said, it’s personal and private.”
“Lovey, why are you whispering? Who’s there?”
“Nobody but me and your daddy.”
“What did you say?”
“I’m just feeling Herman deep in my heart today, that’s all. What time is it there?”
“It’s three o’clock in
“No no no. I just can’t see the clock from where I’m sitting.” Herman was my daddy. He’s supposedly dead. I don’t remember what he looks like. Lovey tore up all his pictures. Don’t remember the Sound of his voice. Just that I supposedly look like a female version of him. Word on the Street was that he left Fresno city limits driving south on Highway 99 heading for Vegas on the Fourth of July, 1960, to find some woman named Petralee whom he’d met at—and apparently fell head over heels in love with while stumbling in and out of—an orchard bar. No one has ever seen or heard from him since.
My foster sister, Joy, whom I dearly love and hate as if we were born to the same parents, does not want to remember the people who abandoned her when she was six and turned her over to the state of California, county of Fresno, for love and care-giving. That person turned out to be my mother whose real name is Louvelle Dupree and whose only other child would be me, Marilyn, who had two years earlier already left to attend college in the Bay Area causing “Lovey” to suffer a serious case of the empty nest. She said she felt useless and needed somebody other than needy parishioners and neighbors to talk to without having to pray with them or do their hair in her hot kitchen. So she fostered Joy and then adopted her. Lovey was so proud when Joy got stars on her report card for being thoughtful and helpful because she was the same at home. But as Joy became more high-spirited, her mannerisms were not as amusing to Lovey. Joy turned a corner and things went bad.
On several occasions, Joy did stints in juvenile hail for various youthful infractions. Lovey tried to give her back to the state, but waited too long. Joy had already turned eighteen and had one baby and then another and now she’s done a grand job of convincing Lovey, who is all of sixty-seven, that she is needed around the house. It’s most likely Joy and her undisciplined little brats who are probably Lovey’s major source of stress.
“Is Joy there now?”
“I doubt it. She ain’t never here. But those little Flintstones should be running around here somewhere.”
“I’ll call back later, Lovey. You sure you’re okay?”
“I ain’t answering no more questions. Good-bye.” Click.
Something is wrong in Bedrock, since she brought it up. If I smoked, this would be a good time for a cigarette, but I just do what Trudy suggested Maureen do, and take a series of slow breaths as I walk back up the stairs and sit down inside the waiting room where two other women are now sitting. One, dressed in a conventional navy blue suit, is on her cell phone, which rings every fifteen seconds because she keeps saying her name and title and “hold” like this is her office without walls. The other woman is so thin she looks like a hard pretzel. She’s in running clothes and looks to be in her early thirties. Her tiny muscles pop out on arms like golf balls. When she crosses her legs, I can hear them crack. I want her to eat something right now. I bet she doesn’t get her period either.
Have You Noticed Any Unaccounted for Weight Gain? Yes. It’s gotten to the point that I can’t even stand to look at myself naked in the mirror anymore because it is not my body I see, it’s the body of some middle-aged woman who’s letting herself go.
I try to move my backpack with my right foot, which seems to have fallen asleep. It weighs a ton. Last night I took all the stuff out of both glove compartments and stuffed it in here so I could sort through it over a decaf latte, but not at Starbucks. I have started boycotting them since they’ve started appearing like dandelions on corners within urban, rural—and from what I’ve seen on MTV—even within international hotels and blocks of third-world countries, thus giving me a sense that they’ve come to Earth pretending to be philanthropic when in fact they are really an alien empire sent here to take over the world by sprinkling a little something extra into the drinks. We, their addicted slaves, don’t even realize that we have learned a new language—their language. Many of us cannot even afford their stock since they went public, but have shown a different kind of loyalty by spending astronomical amounts of money once known mainly to drug addicts for coffee and tea, but somehow we don’t seem to mind. Well, I mind.
Where was I? Oh, yeah: sorting through my backpack. I’ve damn near forgotten I was even in a doctor’s office when the nurse or whatever she’s called pokes her head through the door and says, “Marilyn, would you like to come with me?” I want to say: “No, I just came here to read magazines for an hour since I have nothing else to do,” but I just follow her.
“Let’s get your weight,” she says.
“Let’s not,” I say.
“Oh, it’s not that bad,” she says.
I don’t know what that perfume is she’s wearing but it smells like gasoline. Why is it that people who wear cheap perfume always have to slather it on?
“So what brings you here today, Marilyn?”
Can’t she read? I’m not repeating it. Not without screaming. So I say as calmly as I can, “Well, Dr. Hilton asked if I could come in today so she could explain the results of my blood test.”
She opens a brown folder and flips it open. “That’s indeed what I see here.”
“Does it show my hormone levels?”
“Yes, it does.”
“Am I in the early stages of menopause?”
“I’ll let the doctor explain when she comes in. Let’s get your blood pressure and temperature,” she says, wrapping that padded thing tighter than usual around my arm and sticking the disposable thermometer under my tongue as if she’s really trying to shut me up. “When was your last menstrual cycle?”
“I didn’t have one in January, I’m happy to say, and I’m due again in two weeks, but good riddance,” I say, holding on to the tip of the thermometer.
“And that date was?”
“Your blood pressure is excellent: 121 over 70. Now let’s get you to hop on the scale and then go right over there to the restroom and get me a clean urine sample, okay?”
“Sure. Be happy to.”
I close my eyes when I get on the scale. I can feel it tipping too far to the right. In fact, I think that silver clip might just keep going straight through that shiny picture of a kitten and a puppy playing together on the wall. “Don’t tell me what it says,” I say. “I don’t want to know.”
I go into the bathroom. She’s been in here quite a few times today. I try not to inhale any more of her toxic scent than I have to. After I come out, she guides me into Room #1 and gives me the take everything-off spiel. I put the blue gown on backward and hop onto the table. When she tells me the doctor should be with me shortly, I feel like saying: “Sure sure sure! Heard this already. Save it for the next patient.” I lie back on the stainless steel examination table. Decide to take advantage of this time by closing my eyes. The tissue paper on both sides of my hips crinkles and makes a crackling noise.
I bend over and pull my backpack up with both hands and start rummaging through it when I realize that this is not an appropriate place for me to clean this thing out, and since I’m trying not to always be “doing something” in every free moment, I decide to drop it back where it was, but a thick wad of notebook paper falls out. I forgot all about this! As I flip page after page, I wondered if I was having a “moment” because it’s clear to see I was writing very fast:
January: Stop swearing. This is a lazy, cheap, and ignorant way to express myself. But I enjoy swearing sometimes, and don’t always use it in a hostile or malicious way. In fact, I could probably come up with at least a hundred different ways just to use the word “fuck” in all its forms: Fuck you. I will fuck you up. Abso-fucking-lutely. My husband cannot fuck. You get on my fucking nerves. I can’t fucking believe this. You fucker. This is fucking ridiculous. I’ll try. February: Improve my vocabulary. Try to learn a new word every day and use it in a sentence. If I was around more intelligent people, I might be able to get some practice. This was a problem I had when my kids were little. I’d say something like “Go ahead and just gesticulate.” And Spencer or Simeon would say, “Gest-who? Mom, come on. Give us the normal word, please!” I’d think: what the fuck? But I’d say: “Just try moving those little arms, then.” March: Eat smarter. April: Stop being so critical. This is going to be tough because it’s so much easier pointing out other people’s shortcomings than it is recognizing and acknowledging your own. And so much more fun. But, sad to say, just about every negative thing I’ve said about someone eventually winds up becoming a problem I have to face. May: Volunteer! Stop being so selfish and shallow. This concept wasn’t designed solely for rich white women with nothing else to do. June: Go to church and Pray More Often! Let’s be realistic: not necessarily every single Sunday but enough so that I feel redeemed. Remember not to waste God’s time with chitchat and don’t ask for any special favors because too many folks are asking for special treatment all day long. Don’t ask for anything. But if I have to, ask for the ability to use common sense, be stronger, be more patient, compassionate, honest, and forgiving. The rest should fall into place. If not, it means I’m not paying attention. July: Exercise! Something. But break a sweat. (Hot flashes do not count! Ha!) August: Cook something new at least once a week! This is so last-year. I must’ve been out of my fucking mind. In fact, I’m thinking of taking a cooking hiatus. September: Be more sociable. I should do more things with my friends since I don’t do much with my husband. Maybe make some new friends even though I love Bunny and Paulette. Try reconnecting with a few that I liked in college who found me on the Internet but whom I have yet to e-mail back. Try not to compare. October: Write letters again! Especially to people who think I’ve forgotten them because I have. Reminisce. November: Change my hairstyle every three months. (Why did I want to do that? Oh yeah, for variety.) December: Go somewhere I never thought I’d go. Do something I never thought I’d do. (Like where? Like what?)
Did I really write all of this stuff? Was I on some kind of fucking medication around then? Nope. That’s the reason why I’m here now. Does swearing in my thoughts count the same as actually swearing out loud? A knock on the door startles me and I throw my tablet on the floor like it’s an illegal drug.
“May I come in?”
“Sure,” I say, and sit up like a board is behind my back.
“How are you these days, Marilyn?”
“So-so,” I say. “I like your new office.”
She looks good. Too good. Like she’s had work done. But to that I say, right on.
“Well, let’s see here.” She sighs, flipping through my chart, and then she just closes it.
“How far into it am I?”
“Well, that depends.”
“On what? I thought you said the blood test would show my hormone levels.”
“It does, indeed.”
“Are they high or low?”
“Well, Marilyn, I’m not sure how you’re going to feel about the numbers.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, the levels indicate that you’re probably pregnant.”
I know I didn’t hear her right. I couldn’t possibly have heard her say the word “pregnant.”
“What did you just say?”
“This is what the tests say.”
“You can’t really be serious?”
“Well, when you told the lab that you’d missed a period, they automatically did a pregnancy test when checking hormone levels, just in case.”
“I don’t fucking believe this!”
“So I take it this isn’t good news for you then, Marilyn?”
“Preg-nant,” I blurt out just to hear myself say it. “How pregnant am I?”
“I can’t tell you that based on this test, but since your next cycle is due in”—she looks at my chart—”it says here, around the eighteenth of February—then it would be safe to put you at roughly six or seven weeks.”
“Six or seven weeks?” I whisper and realize I’ve been tapping the base of this metal exam table with the heels of both feet, which I can’t seem to stop until I place both palms on my kneecaps and press down. I take a few deep breaths and think of Trudy of all people. “Wait a minute. Okay. Wait. I thought I was supposed to be going through menopause! That’s what I came in here for!”
“You probably were, Marilyn, but sometimes there’s one last hurrah left.”
“Hurrah?” I sigh, but I’m also fucking-lutely positive that she knows I’m not waiting for a fucking response.
Readers will both smile, sigh and cry on some of the pages of The Interruption of Everything.
Steve Hopkins, October 25, 2005
ã 2005 Hopkins and Company, LLC
The recommendation rating for this book appeared
in the November 2005 issue of Executive Times
URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/The Interruption of Everything.htm
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