Before the term “ghosting” founds its way amongst the Black dating culture, one Black woman wrote a whole novel about it.
In 1989, then-upcoming author Terry McMillian released her second novel Disappearing Acts. The novel tackled a star-crossed love story from the perspectives of Zora Banks, an independent music teacher and aspiring singer and Franklin Swift, a debonair, womanizing handyman and construction worker with not so much as a steady income or G.E.D to his name. They meet in a New York brownstone upon Zora’s moving in and from there, the two embark on a rollercoaster of the highs and lows of love, from moving in together, dealing with each other’s baggage, and realizing what each other wants out of their relationship.
With about thirty years in the writing world, Terry McMillian has become a legend in her own right. Known to be on the shelves next to the likes of other Black female authors such as June Jordan and Toni Morrison, McMillian has carved her own path of devoted female readers with her thought-provoking, feisty narratives about Black female empowerment.
Disappearing Acts was new territory for the then-38-year-old author. Coming off the runaway success of her 1987 novel Mama, McMillian, for the first time, tackled the imagining of a Black male voice. According to a 1990 Washington Post article “The Urban Author, Straight to the Point,” author Jacqueline Trescott writes, “published last year, the book was saluted as a break from one-sided depictions of black men…the character is a construction worker who more often than not is unemployed by choice, drinks and uses drugs, vacillates between comfort and unease with his live-in girlfriend who supports him, and feels displaced when they have a child.”
Some critics saw some controversy in McMillian’s depiction. Author Valerie Sayers, in her 1989 article “Someone to Walk Over Me,” writes, “McMillian takes some real chances not only with Franklin's voice but with his life. Summarized, his history makes him sound like a loser.” Sayers later praises McMillian by saying she, “…takes the reader so deep into this man's head - and makes what goes on there so complicated - that his story becomes not only comprehensible but affecting.”
McMillian certainly wasn’t the first Black female writer to tackle a male literary voice. Author Alice Walker introduced audiences to two male voices: the abusive Grange Copeland in her 1970 debut novel The Third Life of Grange Copeland and the apathetic Mr. in her Pulitzer-Prizing 1982 novel The Color Purple. Fellow Pulitzer Prize winner and literary juggernaut Toni Morrison introduced us to her Daedalus-and-Icarus- reimagination in characters Macon Dead and Milkman Dead in her 1977 novel Song of Solomon as well as her intense and intimate tribute to slavery emasculation in the character of Paul D. in her 1987 masterpiece Beloved. McMillian joins the ranks of these two ladies and would go on to pen another male character, fantasy jailbait Winston Shakespeare in her 1996 novel How Stella Got Her Groove Back.
11 years after its release, Disappearing Acts would go on to be adapted into a film for HBO in 2000 starring Wesley Snipes and Sanaa Lathan in the roles of Franklin and Zora, respectively.Today, Disappearing Acts remains a treasure amongst McMillians other well-known works. She turned a page on new ways of viewing contemporary African American fiction as well as picked up where Morrison and Walker left off while introducing readers of the late 80’s and early 90’s to multidimensional Black male characters. It began with Disappearing Acts.