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The Turner house
2016
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New York Times Review
IN "THE TURNER HOUSE," an engrossing and remarkably mature first novel by Angela Flournoy, Detroit has been hit hard by the crisis in the auto industry. It's 2008, and Viola, the ailing matriarch of the Turner clan, has moved in with her son Cha-Cha, leaving her house empty - temporarily, she insists, though we sense she'll never return. Her 13 children will have to decide what to do with the home in which they grew up, and it won't be easy. Viola refinanced in 1994, after her husband died; now she has a $40,000 mortgage, and the house is worth about a tenth of that. This isn't unusual on Yarrow Street, where abandoned homes dot the landscape, and Cha-Cha pays the electric bill on his mother's unoccupied house to hold off the looters. The Turner family is adept at keeping secrets, sometimes big ones, sometimes for years. The narrative mostly follows Cha-Cha, the oldest sibling, and Lelah, the youngest. When we meet Lelah, she is broke because of a gambling addiction and has been evicted from her apartment. She furtively squats at her mother's empty house, sneaking in and out and laboring to keep up the facade of her old life, in part to avoid giving her daughter any reason to keep her from seeing her grandchild. Cha-Cha, the de facto head of the family, is grappling with an unsettling affection for his psychologist. We learn in flashbacks to the '40 s that the secrets begin with Viola's husband, Francis, who may have had reasons other than work for moving Viola and the new-born Cha-Cha from Arkansas to Detroit. And Viola herself harbors secrets of her own. Flournoy suggests how much of family life can be a compromise between the need for truth and the need to get along with one another. There is a trace of Gabriel García Márquez in this novel - and not just in the way the fantastic is matter-of-factly described in one of the subplots, which involves a persistent, malevolent ghost, called a haint. "The Turner House" also contains a Márquezian abundance of characters, and it puts forth the notion that each generation exerts an influence on the ones to follow, even when that influence isn't consciously felt. Flournoy's prose is artful without being showy. She takes the time to flesh out the world. The contents of a garage include "an old walker and its dirty, impaled tennis balls, a disassembled hospital bed, boxes and boxes of gauze." Francis guesses a woman is in her late 30s because of "the way the skin between her breasts folded like a tiny accordion when she put them in a brassiere." Detroit is evoked with similar care. Flournoy realistically portrays the challenges of living in a neighborhood long after whites retreated "to the suburbs, leaving vacant houses in their wake." The Turners' aluminum-sided garage is stolen right off their house, to be sold as scrap metal. The police don't patrol enough, and they don't respond quickly enough when called. In her accretion of resonant details, Flournoy recounts the history of Detroit with more sensitivity than any textbook could. Dissatisfactions with social conditions boiled over in the summer of 1967 into a civil disturbance that Flournoy avoids labeling a "riot" as it's taking place. Instead, she writes that "the skirmish on 12 th and Clairmont had morphed into something larger" as "a burning house became an olfactory norm akin to skunk spray." Cha-Cha, who has moved out of the family home by then, imagines "he might have joined his own friends from the neighborhood in search of new shoes, lightweight appliances, anything with resale potential" if he had no younger siblings to worry about, but the fact is, he's back at the house many an evening for a home-cooked meal and to make sure his teenage brothers stay indoors until their father gets home from work. That Flournoy's main characters are black is central to this book, and yet her treatment of that essential fact is never essentializing. Flournoy gets at the universal through the patient observation of one family's particulars. In this assured and memorable novel, she provides the feeling of knowing a family from the inside out, as we would wish to know our own. MATTHEW THOMAS'S novel, "We Are Not Ourselves," was a New York Times Notable Book in 2014.
Library Journal Review
[DEBUT]Flournoy's debut novel has received strong endorsements from fellow authors ranging from T.C. Boyle to Cristina Garcia, and it's easy to understand why. She subtly reveals how family, however annoying, finally provides the greatest support during difficult times. Members of the multigenerational Turner family suddenly find themselves facing different problems when matriarch Viola must leave her Detroit home of over 50 years after becoming infirm. The complex relationships among the various characters are engrossing and engrossingly disclosed; a haint's presumed attack on one brother becomes a point of contention that clarifies the personalities of different Turner siblings. The conversations between them are honest and sometimes humorous (comparing Detroit's dilapidation to the zombie-apocalypse is classic), while details regarding the degeneration of Detroit's once-thriving African American communities are heartrending. Verdict Flournoy is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, but her greatest asset here is her time spent at her grandparents' home in Detroit. Veracious and jaunting like Cynthia Bond's Ruby, this novel will appeal to readers of literary and African American fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 10/27/14.]-Ashanti White, Yelm, WA © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Flounoy's debut is a lively, thoroughly engaging family saga with a cast of fully realized characters. Francis and Viola Turner and their 13 children have lived in a house on Detroit's East Side for more than 50 years. In its prime, Yarrow Street was a comfortable haven for black working-class homeowners. In 2008, after Detroit's long economic depression, Francis has died and Viola is about to lose the house, the value of which has declined to less than the owed mortgage payments, and the siblings are faced with a difficult decision about the house's fate. Flournoy focuses on three of the Turner siblings-Cha-Cha, the eldest son, who drove an 18-wheeler carrying Chryslers before an accident took him off the road; Troy, the youngest son, a policeman with an ambitious, illegal plan; and Lelah, the unstable youngest daughter, who has a gambling addiction. In addition to the pressing financial issue regarding their family home, the plot touches on the moral, emotional, marital, and psychological problems that affect the siblings. Flournoy evokes the intricacies of domestic situations and sibling relationships, depicting how each of the Turners' lives has been shaped by the social history of their generation. She handles time and place with a veteran's ease as the narrative swings between decades, at times leaping back to the 1940s. A family secret, which involves a "haint" (or ghost) who became Francis's nemesis-perhaps real, perhaps just a superstition-appears many years later to haunt Cha-Cha. Readers may be reminded of Ayana Mathis's The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, but Flournoy puts her own distinctive stamp on this absorbing narrative. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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