The Turner House
Published April 14, 2015
341 pages (hardcover)
Now that my bundle-of-joy’s arrival is imminent, I’m in full-on nesting mode. My freezer has more food in it than ever before. The house is cleaner than ever (even the basement is spotless). Our bags are packed for the hospital and waiting patiently by the door. Needless to say, reading and blogging are falling by the wayside.
I have started and abandoned a couple of books lately (no time for sub-par books!). And even decent books, like this one, are taking me a ridiculously long time to get through. The Turner House is not long, nor is it particularly complex, but it took me weeks to finish. I don’t think that speaks to the quality of the writing or the story itself. Instead, that speaks to my current, very distracted state-of-mind . . . which is why I’ve concluded that it’s time for a break.
I will still try to post sporadically, but, in light of this whole baby adventure I am undertaking, I have a sneaking suspicion that I won’t have the time or energy to devote to reading and blogging so frequently. If I read a particularly good book, I will try to post about it (but it might take me a while). Or I may try to post a weekly (biweekly? monthly?) round-up of the books I’ve read with short reviews of each. We shall see. But, regardless of what I end up doing, this is my last regular post for the time being. Without further ado . . .
The titular Turner House is the house in Detroit where Frances and Viola Turner (transplants from Arkansas) raised their thirteen kids. It’s in a pretty shady neighborhood and, despite the fact that Viola still owes $40,000 on the mortgage, it’s only worth about $4,000.
The house, of course, holds many memories for the thirteen Turner kids. One memory, in particular, has come back to haunt (literally and figuratively) the eldest, Cha-Cha. In the summer of 1958, when Cha-Cha was fourteen, he was attacked by a haint. Several of the younger kids witnessed the commotion:
They saw Cha-Cha, all elbows and fists, swinging at the haint. It had let go of Cha-Cha’s collar and was now on the defensive. Quincy would later insist that the haint emitted a blue, electric-looking light, and each time Cha-Cha’s fists connected with its body the entire thing flickered like a faulty lamp.
Russell, the seven-year-old, fainted. Three-year-old Lonnie peed his pants. Francey, the second eldest, told Cha-Cha to run. Quincy banged on their parents’ door. And, when their dad, Frances, got up to see what all the fuss was about, his reaction was different than the kids had expected: “There ain’t no haints in Detroit,” he told them. And that was that. None of them ever saw the haint again. Until, that is, it tried to run Cha-Cha off the road on one of his trucking drives in the Spring of 2008.
By 2008, Frances has passed away. The children have dispersed (several still live in and around Detroit, but a few have moved as far as California). And matriarch Viola, is virtually bed-ridden following a stroke and living with Cha-Cha (but she’s convinced she’ll be returning to her own home shortly: “I plan on movin back just as soon as I get strong again. Just a couple more months.”).
As the children are forced to figure out what to do with their old family home, the haint continues to visit Cha-Cha. And, with thirteen cooks in the kitchen (some with stronger opinions than others for a variety of reasons), it’s not easy for them to come to a decision regarding what will become of the old Turner House where they all grew up.
I spent my formative years in quiet, middle-class suburbs and small college towns. My parents divorced when I was 10. I have one brother. My parents both remarried, leading to blended families on both sides (one much closer than the other). Needless to say, on paper, it doesn’t seem like my family has much in common with the Turner brood.
But what is great about this book is that the characters are so relatable. There are sibling rivalries. There are family secrets. There are jealousies. There are crazy family members and stable family members. There are raucous family events. There are pressures and expectations. Despite the fact that the Turners’ familial situation appears so different from my own, the Turner family seemed very familiar. And observations about the Turners (like this one: “Sooner or later you’re gonna realize that just cause a Turner thinks a thing is normal doesn’t mean it is. Not at all.”) rang equally true for my family.
The book jumps back and forth in time a bit to tell the tale of Frances and Viola’s early days (how/why they made the move to Detroit). That kind of chronological jumping usually gets on my nerves, but it served a purpose here and was executed pretty well. The book’s one flaw is that it gets a bit bogged down in the plot (which is weak and peripheral). This is very much a character-driven tale, and it is the characters and their relationships that make the book strong.
- An Indie Next List pick for May 2015
Who should read it: If you’re from a big family, this would be a great book to read. And, if you just enjoy reading about the complexities of familial relationships, this is a good choice. It will make you realize that your family’s quirks aren’t all that quirky after all.
Want to see Angela Flournoy speak about this book? Come to this year’s Decatur Book Festival! Flournoy is one of the authors who will be speaking at the festival. She will be appearing on two panels: “The State of Publishing for People of Color” on Saturday, September 5th, from 3:00-3:45 and “Family Resilience” from 5:30-6:15. For more information, click here.