The Turner House by Angela Flournoy (2015)

download-2I really enjoyed this family story and was a bit surprised that a number of reviewers on Goodreads were critical of it (though many more loved it) because “not enough happened.”  That’s not the point.  This is a family story–it’s about relationships, struggles, family dynamics, commitment, the decay of a major American city, and the will to survive or even thrive. It’s about the family of Francis Turner who came to Detroit in the 40’s and, with his wife, Viola, raised 13 children. While the story focuses the most on the eldest, Cha Cha, and the youngest, Leyla, it’s about all of them and the effect of job loss, white flight, and urban blight.  But it’s also about the ways in which they support each other and  complement each other. While the story is loosely connected around the question of what to do with the Turner family house and its upside down mortgage that they can’t pay, it’s about so much more as Flournoy develops the characters: most notable is Cha Cha who has had too much responsibility for most of his life (at least in part to make up for his father’s drinking) and still struggles to make sense of a haint he saw as a child (and continues to see), and Leyla, the youngest who struggles with a gambling habit, disappointing not only herself and her siblings, but also her own daughter. The story toggles back and forth between 1944, when Francis arrives in Detroit, and 2008, when the family discusses the future of the house on Yarrow Street where the Turners have lived for 50 years.

At only 34 years old, Flournoy is an impressive writer (the book was a National Book Award Finalist as well as a Michigan Notable Book). I love this description of a fellow gambler at the casino where Leyla spends too much time and all of her money: “Her fake eyelashes made her look drowsy, like a middle-aged blinking baby doll” (44). This is well-written and a great addition to my summer reading.

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