[Review]: The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

Posted 20 April, 2015 by DLWhite in Reviews, Writers Read 0 Comments

The Turner House Book Cover The Turner House
Angela Flournoy
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
April 14, 2015
Edelweiss/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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.

Already 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.

Dear future readers: Don’t read the first two chapters of this book and decide it isn’t for you. PRESS. There are nuggets of gold within these pages. You will adore this novel!

I read The Turner House with smiles at my own memories of our family gatherings. Every event is a family reunion. Our family is so large that there are members of my family that I have never even met. The stories that Flournoy crafted to display the relationship between 13 siblings, all gathered around Mama– who is dying– and wistful recall of a patriarch long gone bring a warmth to my soul and spirit. I’m so reminded of my Aunt and Uncle(recently passed) who had 13 children. They often tell me that having so many siblings meant you always had someone to play with. My cousins tell me that their sisters are their best friends.

This book largely follows the oldest of the 13– Cha Cha (Charles) and the youngest born, Lelah. Cha-Cha is the de-facto father figure, since father Francis died. He’s the one that has to decide what to do with the Turner House. Mother Viola suffered a stroke and couldn’t live alone any more. Cha and his wife Tina took her in, and despite her insistence that she’ll return home, every one knows she’ll never see that house again. She’s upside down in the mortgage, and the family is split on what to do with the house on Yarrow, their childhood home, a place that holds a lifetime of memories for each of them.

Some want to keep the house, some want to sell it, some still need to call it home.

Lelah, the youngest of the 13, is the character that I felt the most compassion for, for some reason. She’s a gambling addict and a screw-up in nearly every way, except for her daughter and grandson– she did that right, at least. We meet Lelah as she’s being evicted from her apartment for non-payment of rent, which went unpaid because she’d been suspended from work without pay. Lelah rolls through the situation with the ease of someone who’s endured job loss and eviction as often as I’ve filled my car with gas. With nowhere to turn, she’s been squatting at The Turner House, avoiding her siblings and trying to stay away from the Casino.

With graceful flashbacks to the past, Flournoy takes us to the beginning, to when Viola and Francis only had Cha-Cha. How Viola worked for an insufferable white woman. How Francis traveled from Arkansas to Detroit in search of work, but stayed gone for nine long months. How each had disrespected their marriage during his absence, then spent the next fifty years making it up to each other– the next twelve children being a testament to that promise.

The house on Yarrow was to be a new beginning, a meaningful symbol to the Turner family. To see it empty and on the verge of foreclosure must have been heartbreaking to a family that had filled it with so many children, so much love and warmth.

I love a rich, deep, warm story that covers a lifetime of happenings. The Turner House was all that and then some. Quite enjoyable– I would read more from this author!

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