'Happy' revisits old friends

Terry McMillan never intended a sequel to “Waiting to Exhale.’’ Terry McMillan never intended a sequel to “Waiting to Exhale.’’ (Stephanie Rausser)
By Alex Spanko
Globe Correspondent / September 7, 2010

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Terry McMillan insists she never intended to write a sequel to her runaway 1992 bestseller, “Waiting to Exhale.’’ But when she sat down to write about the themes that had pervaded her life since then — betrayal, loss, aging — she realized the four female protagonists from the original were a perfect fit.

“It was almost like a light bulb, for lack of a better cliche, went off in my head,’’ said McMillan, who promptly abandoned her idea to create four new characters. “It just seemed kind of tacky to tell a story about four new women, when I’d already told one.’’

The resulting sequel, “Getting to Happy,’’ catches up with best friends Savannah, Gloria, Robin, and Bernadine as 50-somethings with a new set of man problems. And while McMillan hinted that one character must deal with the knowledge that her lover deceived her, she said there was no direct connection between the plot and her acrimonious divorce from Jonathan Plummer, who came out as gay.

“None of my personal life came into play, except with the whole notion with loving someone, and finding out that they had betrayed you,’’ McMillan said.

McMillan will discuss “Getting to Happy’’ at the Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard St., Saturday evening at 5.

Charles and Gregory Fried tackle the big philosophical ideas behind George W. Bush’s wartime policies in “Because It Is Wrong,’’ a detailed analysis of the former president’s controversial torture and surveillance tactics.

Blood relation aside, the two professors are unlikely collaborators on such a politicized subject: father Charles, a veteran of Harvard Law, is a self-described “Reagan Republican’’ who served as his solicitor general, while son Gregory teaches philosophy at Suffolk University and claims to have voted for the Democratic candidate in every presidential election in which he’s participated. But the pair united on an issue they say transcends the red-versus-blue political debate.

“These are fundamental questions about the very nature of our republic, and about the very nature of ethics and morality, that one might hope that Democrats and Republicans and independents and others could agree upon,’’ said Gregory.

Eventually, the Frieds determine that torture is inherently wrong from a moral standpoint, and is thus never permissible — hence the book’s title. But breaking privacy laws, they reason, is something a president can do if emergency circumstances call for it, though only if he’s up-front and honest about his actions to Congress so that the law may eventually be changed.

The Frieds, joined by Charles’s friend and fellow Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and terrorism expert Jessica Stern, will discuss “Because It Is Wrong’’ at the Brattle Theatre tonight at 6.

Daphne Kalotay tapped into her family’s past, a tad indirectly, to craft “Russian Winter,’’ a partially historical novel that splits its time between modern-day Boston and postwar Moscow.

Kalotay said she found inspiration in her Hungarian-born father, who survived the Holocaust and subsequent Russian occupation before emigrating in the 1950s. She still has relatives who never left the homeland, and as a teenager, Kalotay started seeing the connection between her family’s personality and their traumatic European experience.

But the first-time novelist eventually decided to have her protagonist, an aging ballerina who tries to sell off her prized jewelry under mysterious circumstances, hail from Russia.

“It sort of doesn’t have the same ring to it, if you said the Hungarian ballet,’’ said Kalotay.

Kalotay will discuss “Russian Winter’’ at the Brookline Booksmith tonight at 7.