Terry McMillan’s Introduction to Loving Donovan
New York: Save the date! Join Bernice L. McFadden and Terry McMillan for Loving Donovan‘s Brooklyn launch event at BRIC (647 Fulton Street) on Tuesday, March 31.
When you visit Bernice L. McFadden’s website, you are greeted with the line, “I write to breathe life back into memory,” and while this is true, what is also true is that Bernice is one of the best contemporary literary writers out there today. As cliché as it may sound, Bernice’s brilliance, her talent as a novelist, is the very life she breathes into all of her characters. They live so fully on the page that we know them intimately by the end of any of her novels . . . and we want to continue knowing them long after the final page is turned.
What makes Bernice’s writing connect with so many readers is her love and belief in the importance of history—both personal and universal. In her commitment to exploring her own history—and in novels like Gathering of Waters and Glorious, the greater history of black people in America—she brings to us deeply relatable human stories. She peels back layers of history to get to the heart of what shapes us as individuals, as a neighborhood, as a city, as a country.
In her 2006 novel Nowhere Is a Place (reissued by Akashic Books in 2013), she achieves this by mapping the crossroads of her young narrator Sherry’s heritage as Sherry embarks on a road trip of self- and ancestral discovery. Once the story is complete—and Sherry has healed the fractures in her immediate family by sewing together the pieces of their past—Bernice adds a poignant epilogue, addressed to the reader, entitled “Are We Related?” In it, she reveals that Nowhere Is a Place was inspired by her personal genealogical research, which she then details before asking readers to send in their own.
In this epilogue, Bernice paints the truest portrait of her process: not only are her characters’ earnest and varied quests to connect with their history very much her own, but it is through their engagement with her readers that her own urge to connect can be satisfied.
If Nowhere Is a Place provides Bernice a sort of topography upon which she and her readers might find common ground, Loving Donovan’s trajectory is straight through the heart. The book has been described as an unconventional love story, and in many ways it is. When I began rereading it to write this introduction, I was struck by how much Bernice tackles in this seemingly straightforward story of romance. And while she addresses difficult topics such as pedophilia, domestic abuse, homophobia, abortion, depression, suicide, she writes with such finesse that she doesn’t leave the reader in total despair. Saddened at times, yes, but throughout it all, Bernice gives her characters hope.
The array of craft she utilizes to this effect are plenty: the lyrical beauty of her writing, her tremendous empathy for her characters (rendered by the grace with which they confront their hardships), her honest and improbably inviting depiction of life in the projects, the breadth with which she describes even the most minor of characters, and above all the humor woven throughout the work that helps us—Bernice, her characters, her readers, all of us together—thrive and survive.
But what makes a person know they’re reading a McFadden novel when reading Loving Donovan is the manner in which her ever-present resuscitation of memory and drive to connect is mirrored in the book’s ingenious structure. Told in three parts—“Her,” “Him,” and “Them”—the novel separately introduces two yearning, living, loving, fractured characters in their adolescence and sends them on their own paths of self-discovery that we know from the structure of the work are destined to converge in their adulthood.
Through the first two parts, we get to know her (Campbell’s) and his (Donovan’s) scars so intimately—and watch them strive to heal so McFaddenly—that at times we can feel them. And “Them.” We smile with Campbell as she finally wonders, somewhere in the middle of “Them,” Is this how it starts?
This must be how it starts. The sudden loss of breath and the on and off again sound of your heart in your ears. Words caught in your throat and the sudden urge to lick your lips. Wanting to look away, but wanting more just to reach across the table and place your hand on some part of him.
Our smiles widen as she admits to herself with certainty that, Yes, this is how it begins. And thanks to this reissue, so it now can begin for you.
TERRY McMILLAN is the best-selling author of many novels, including Waiting to Exhale, Disappearing Acts, and Who Asked You? She lives in Northern California.
Posted: Feb 18, 2015