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The Turner House Hardcover – April 14, 2015
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From the Publisher
The novel interweaves two time periods—contemporary Detroit, and Detroit and Arkansas in the 1940s.
I always knew that the family house would be at the center of the story. I had all of these siblings to write about, some who in their day-to-day lives don’t see each other much, but they are united via their memories of the house and what it represents for their family. The more I researched about the obstacles that made it difficult for African Americans to achieve home ownership in Detroit in the 40s and 50s, the more I knew I had to tell the story of the house from the beginning. This meant exploring how and why Francis and Viola Turner moved north to Detroit from Arkansas, and the challenges they faced. I thought that giving the reader this information alongside the more present-day narrative would help her better understand the significance of the house, as well as crucial family history.
This book has brilliant humor. Was it important that it be not only deeply moving but funny, too?
You hear people talk about Detroit as a depressing place, but that’s never been my experience of it. When I think of Detroit, I think of warmth, even during its frigid winters. Detroiters have a certain audacity that I have always admired, and for the members of my family, humor is part of what makes them resilient. You can’t tell a joke about a Detroiter that she hasn’t already told, or at least thought, about herself.
You had my heart racing in those roulette scenes. Talk about the role of gambling in the story.
Growing up my family often went to the Detroit casinos, mostly to eat at the buffets. As an adult, I’ve found it hard to reconcile that Detroit, a city with such a high unemployment rate, has three major casinos within its limits. With so many people down on their luck, I imagined there had to be stories to tell about the casinos, and how a person might lose herself there. It seemed right that gambling would be a part of Lelah’s story, as she’s struggling financially and somewhat isolated. My challenge was to render her addiction in a way that felt unique to her, not clinical. I chose roulette because it’s a game that’s easy to understand and has a social component. We get to see Lelah interact with other people via roulette, and we get a glimpse of how she behaves around people who aren’t her family.
Of the 13 Turner siblings, the novel truly belongs to Cha-Cha, the eldest, and Lelah, the youngest.
I come from a large family, and I have always thought about the ways that being part of something so large can make you feel very lonely at times, and absolutely surrounded by love and support at other times. Cha-Cha and Lelah are at opposite ends of that spectrum. As the eldest son, Cha-Cha is very involved in family business; he knows people’s secrets and is generally respected. By contrast, Lelah is the baby, an entire generation removed from Cha-Cha, with fewer feelings of obligation toward the family, and she has feelings of alienation that come with being so much younger. The first and the last children see the family from such disparate vantage points that together I hope they create a more complex picture of the Turners for readers.
A powerful timely debut The Turner House marks a major new contribution to the story of the American family The Turners have lived on Yarrow Street for over fifty years Their house has seen thirteen children grown and gone and some returned it has seen the arrival of grandchildren the fall of Detroit s East Side and the loss of a father The house still stands despite abandoned lots an embattled city and the inevitable shift outward to the suburbs But now as ailing matriarch Viola finds herself forced to leave her home and move in with her eldest son the family discovers that the house is worth just a tenth of its mortgage The Turner children are called home to decide its fate and to reckon with how each of their pasts haunts and shapes their family s future Praised by Ayana Mathis as utterly moving and un putdownable The Turner House brings us a colorful complicated brood full of love and pride sacrifice and unlikely inheritances It s a striking examination of the price we pay for our dreams and futures and the ways in which our families bring us home NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST A powerful timelydebut The Turner House marks a major new contribution to the story of the American family The Turners have lived on Yarrow Street for over fifty years Their house has seen thirteen children grown and gone and some returned it has seen the arrival of grandchildren the fall of Detroit s East Side and the loss of a father The house still stands despite abandoned lots an embattled city and the inevitable shift outward to the suburbs But now as ailing matriarch Viola finds herself forced to leave her home and move in with her eldest son the family discovers that the house is worth just a tenth of its mortgage The Turner children are called home to decide its fate and to reckon with how each of their pasts haunts and shapes their family s future Praised by Ayana Mathis as utterly moving and un putdownable The Turner House brings u
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It took me a while to get going, but once I did, I was hooked. The Turner House is about a family of 13 adult siblings who, once their matriarch falls ill, must decide the fate of the Detroit home they grew up in.
Flournoy (smartly) puts the focus on two of the siblings: the oldest and the youngest, each haunted by his or her own demons (literally and figuratively). At 64 years old, Cha-Cha begins seeing a therapist for the first time in his life, intent on finding out the truth behind the ghost (the “haint”) that’s been haunting him since he was a boy. Lelah, 22 years Cha-Cha’s junior, has just been evicted from her apartment and is struggling with a gambling addiction.
Through these two characters – and via flashbacks to their parents in the 1940s – we are invited into the Turner family’s complex dynamic. Bound together by love, guilt, and obligation, they struggle – like each and every one of us – to find fulfillment, meaning and redemption.
This is not a book for everyone. If you have a hard time with slow-paced, character-driven novels, you may find it boring. But I have to say that I found it quite rewarding. Flournoy manages to bring so much depth to her characters, and in doing so creates a timeless story about a vivid, unforgettable family.
Flournoy is a very good story teller who weaves together the experiences of the different generations into a complete fabric that paints an interesting picture of this family's journey. At times the back and forth juxtaposition of story lines seemed a bit confusing, but over all, the novel is well constructed and one highly recommended for those who continue to enjoy good storytelling.
Jumping back and forth between present day and the Turners initial move to Detroit, Flournoy gives us perspectives from several of the Turners on their personal issues as well as on the house and their memories and connection to it. Cleverly woven in is a commentary on poverty, race, and class as pertaining to Detroit's history, landscape, and housing crises. I was impressed by a lot of the character development, especially considering this is Flournoy's debut. Inalso didn't mind that there were still some loose ends at the end of the book, I thought it went well with the general sense of how things can't always be tied up in neat packages, as is life, and this suited the tone of the book. A well-crafted, well-paced, multigenerational story, and I will certainly be on the lookout for more of her work.
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy is a story Detroiters will recognize as 'theirs': black migration from the South to Detroit hoping for work and the rewards of a home of their own, then watching the city fall into the slow ruin caused by white--and black flight to the suburbs, job loss, city mismanagement, crime, drugs, and the lure of easy money at the casinos. The author's father was from Detroit, and his stories informed and inspired her book.
Most recent customer reviews
Me of my own family. Communities in transition, white flight, crime, loss of businesses.Read more