Thursday, May 11, 2017

Review: "The Turner House" by Angela Flournoy

The Turner House, the first novel by Angela Flournoy, is the kind of debut novel I hope and pray: something confident in its setup and its scope but still maintains its intimate and audience friendly demeanor, which makes for an enriching and memorable reading experience, so it is the exact opposite of Will Chancellor’s A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall. In telling the story of a large family living in Detroit the problems they face from both external and internal forces, Flournoy has written a fantastic family drama, among the best I have read recently, mixing all sorts of elements, political, social and emotional in a way that many writers only master over the course of a career, but she has done it with one single book and that is a feat that should be applauded. None of the aforementioned elements really dominate the story, which, at a slim 338 pages (well, slim for a book like this) is not only impressive but a damn near miracle that it all fits nicely in a novel of this size. Reading it, I never got the feeling that any of the information or plot details overflowed its boundaries. Every important part gets its proper due. The novel focuses on the aforementioned family in the book’s title. Headed by Francis and Viola along with their thirteen children, they lived on a house in Farrow Street in the heart of Detroit. In the present time (2008), the house sits empty in a neighborhood that is now riddled with crime and drug addiction. Viola is alive but is cared for by her oldest son Charles, who goes by Cha-Cha and his wife Tina, Francis has been dead since 1990. With a novel of this size, I knew it was impossible for every one of the thirteen Turner children to be fully developed, but the lives of the few children the book offers glimpses into are fascinating and morally complex. The book opens with an experience Cha-Cha had has kid in the house on Yarrow Street where a haint, a ghost of Southern folklore, picked him up in his room and attempted to strangle him. He sees this same blue ghost right before he crashes a semi truck he was driving, an accident that crippled him. Cha- Cha, since he is the oldest of the siblings, acted as a surrogate father to most of them and is the real, somewhat tragic heart of this book. On the other side of the bloodline is Tina, the second most important character, who’s also the youngest. Her gambling addiction has led to her suspension from her job and an overall distrust that brewed among most of the family. The stories of the families converge and collide (along with a few brilliant sections taking place at the beginning of the Turner legacy), tears are shed, punches are thrown and people make drastically horrible mistakes, but you can tell, deep down, that everyone wants to do right by the family they desperately need. Pitch perfect dialogue, a backdrop that offers a glimpse into the societal problems plaguing a once great city and ways our blood connections can fray, sever and heal even stronger than before. This is a grand book that packs a lot of heart and hope into a relatively small package.

Rating: 5/5

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