It has been four years since Terry McMillan’s last novel, How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Many of her fans have been anxiously awaiting her new book, A Day Late and A Dollar Short. For my money, I’d prefer revisiting Franklin Swift and Zora Banks, the protagonists of McMillan’s 1989 novel, Disappearing Acts.
It is the first Terry McMillan novel I'd read. I inhaled it during a train trip between Chicago and Washington, D.C. Despite the phenomenal success of McMillan’s later books, Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back, this is still my favorite book by the author. In some respects, I think it may be her best. Disappearing Acts has been reissued to coincide with the release of an HBO made-for-television movie starring Wesley Snipes and Sanaa Lathan. (I have not yet seen the film.)
Disappearing Acts is a blue-collar/white-collar love story. Construction worker Franklin Swift and music teacher Zora Banks meet as she is moving into a New York apartment he has done work on. Franklin has a swagger and attitude that are hard for Zora to ignore. Zora’s sweetness, sexiness and spunk appeal to Franklin.
Both are relationship-weary. They have looked for - and found - love and its byproducts in all the wrong places. Both come complete with baggage and no desire to get involved with each other. But that’s exactly what happens. To quote a nursery rhyme, when it is good between Franklin and Zora, it is very, very good and when it is bad, it is horrid. For Franklin manhood is equated with his ability to provide for Zora. When seasonal employment, past financial obligations and ego take its toll on him, he implodes emotionally and lashes out at Zora. She equates her love for Franklin with the ability to endure for better - but more often - for worse.
Franklin is uneducated, but possesses an innate intelligence as well as street smartness. Zora is college-educated, but is often naive in life and love. It is evident the two love each other even at times when they are unable to express it outside the confines of the bedroom.
In addition to the strong characterizations of Zora and Franklin, the strength of the novel is in its
alternating chapter, “he said, she said” style. The characters make their case directly to the reader. Secondary characters offer shading and are wisely pushed to the perimeter of the story. This is Franklin and Zora’s story and McMillan lets them tell it. It is not always a pretty story. The novel is rated R, primarily for its language more than for its sexual content.
The literary hype will soon begin for the 2001 Terry McMillan novel, A Day Late and a Dollar Short. I have read it and, in my opinion, the title is a fitting review. Of the two, Disappearing Acts is the Terry McMillan book I’d recommend. For an added treat, there is an audiocassette version of the novel available. The author portrays her heroine on tape, but actor Avery Brooks is Franklin Swift. Sorry, Wesley . . .