Thursday, September 8, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

My book group is meeting soon, and the choice this time is The Turner House by Angela Flournoy.

This is a poignant family drama, covering 2+ generations of Turners, a large family centered in Detroit during the Great Recession and collapse of the housing market. At issue is the family home on Yarrow Street. Although all thirteen of the children had grown up and moved away, the matriarch of the family, Viola Turner, had continued to cling to the devastated property until a final illness necessitated her removal to the suburban home of her eldest son, Francis.

Viola is declining, a fact no one wants to face. However, what brings the siblings (those still living in the Detroit area) back for a family conference is a notice that their mother’s mortgage is underwater. They owe forty thousand dollars and the house is worth, at most, four thousand.

Each of the siblings wants to deal with that news in their own way, but none of the options is good. Francis has his mother’s power-of-attorney, and everyone expects him to take charge as he always has, but they reserve the right to criticize and complain. As for Francis, he has other problems just now– the return of a "haint" that has troubled him since his youth. According to old family lore, the teenage Francis had battled this ghost one night in their home, until told in no uncertain terms by their father that "There ain’t no haints in Detroit."

While each of the siblings puts in an appearance, the novel focuses mainly on Francis, the eldest, and Lelah, the youngest. While Francis has made a stable life for himself, his wife, and their two children, Lelah is living on the edge. Following a failed marriage, she raised her daughter on her own–with help from her family–but is now succumbing to a long gambling addiction. Evicted from her apartment, Lelah has sneaked back to the tumble-down Yarrow Street home, her last possible refuge.

This is an in-depth exploration of family dynamics, the struggles of the middle class and some who have fallen out of it, and of race. It’s a clear-eyed depiction of life in Detroit. Flashbacks into the earlier lives of Francis Senior and a much younger Viola round out the intergenerational saga. Into this is injected a touch of the supernatural. Is the haint real or not?

A wonderful book-club book, I’m looking forward to our meeting and discussion.