The New York Times Book Review - Matthew Thomas
…an engrossing and remarkably mature first novel…Flournoy's prose is artful without being showy. She takes the time to flesh out the world…In her accretion of resonant details, Flournoy recounts the history of Detroit with more sensitivity than any textbook could…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.
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.)
From the Publisher
National Book Award Finalist Nominated for the NAACP Image Awards, "Outstanding Literary Work – Debut Author" Short-listed for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction Nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards, Fiction One of the National Book Foundation’s "5 Under 35" Short-listed for the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize Finalist for the 2016 New York Public Library Young Lions Award Winner of the 2016 Paterson Fiction Prize Finalist for the VCU Cabell First Novelist AwardShort-listed for the Ernest Gaines Award Short-listed for The Morning News 2016 Tournament of BooksLong-listed for the NBCC John Leonard Prize for A Debut NovelLong-listed for the 2016 Chautauqua PrizeAn Amazon Top 100 Editors' Pick of the YearA New York Times Notable Book of 2015A New York Times Editors' ChoiceNew York Times Paperback RowShort-listed for the Winter 2015 Lariat List Short-listed for the Medici Book Club PrizeA Michigan Notable Book 2016Black Caucus of the ALA—1st Novelist Award WinnerFinalist for the 2016 Indies Choice AwardsOne of O, The Oprah Magazine's "10 Favorite Books of the Year"One of Entertainment Weekly's "10 Best Books of 2015"An NPR "Best Book of 2015"One of Buzzfeed's "The 24 Best Fiction Books of 2015"One of Bustle's "2015’s 25 Best Books, Fiction Edition"A Publishers Weekly "Best Book of 2015"A Kirkus "Best Fiction Books of 2015"An Essence's "Best Books of 2015"A Time Out New York "Best Book of 2015"A Detroit Free Press "Must-read novel of 2015"A Literary Hub "Best Book of 2015"One of Men’s Journal’s “The 35 Best Books of 2015” One of the The Week's "Best Fiction Books of 2015" A Denver Post “Best Fiction Book of 2015”One of BookPage's "Best Books of 2015"A Kobo.com "Must-Read Fiction Debut of 2015"BAM Top Pick for Spring 2015May 2015 Indie Next TitleOne of Literati Bookstore's "Best Books of 2015"Morning Sun Bestseller “An engrossing and remarkably mature first novel...Flournoy’s prose is artful without being showy. She takes the time to flesh out the world...In her accretion of resonant details, Flournoy recounts the history of Detroit with more sensitivity than any textbook could...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.”—New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice"The Turner House speeds along like a page-turner. Flournoy’s richly wrought prose and intimate, vivid dialogue make this novel feel like settling deeply into the family armchair."—Entertainment Weekly (Grade: A-) “Flournoy has written an epic that feels deeply personal...Flournoy’s finely tuned empathy infuses her characters with a radiant humanity.”—O, The Oprah Magazine "Angela Flournoy's knockout debut is one of those books that should, by rights, be described as the Great American Novel, as it hits all the points of American life: family, real estate, money, ghosts and loss. Set mostly in Detroit during the financial crisis of 2008, the book tells the story of the 13 adult children of Francis and Viola Turner, who must decide what to do with their family house. The characters are fascinating and funny, and anyone who has played a role in the ecosystem of his family life will recognize the joys and challenges that plague the Turners. But perhaps the strongest character is Detroit itself, as it morphs from bustling modern metropolis to a potent symbol of post-industrial decline."—NPR, "Our Guide to 2015's Great Reads" "When a made-up family feels as warmly real as the Turners — Francis, Viola, and their 13 children — your heart takes note. And when that perceptive, generation-spanning work turns out to be a debut, so does the National Book Award committee, which short-listed Flournoy’s beautifully written novel for its fiction prize. Whether you’re sitting in oldest son Cha-Cha’s therapy sessions, praying for Lelah to overcome her roulette addiction, or following the years young Francis and Viola spent apart, by the time you reach the book’s end, you’ll almost feel like a Turner yourself."—Entertainment Weekly, "10 Best Books of 2015" “An elegant and assured debut."—The Washington Post "Poignant and timely."—San Francisco Chronicle"Flournoy’s National Book Award–nominated debut does an incredible job of bringing both a family and a city to vibrant, poignant life."—Buzzfeed, "The 24 Best Fiction Books of 2015" "A sprawling family history that delves into the Detroit housing crisis and the potential legacies the past holds, Angela Flournoy's first novel will be remembered as the start of a brilliant career."—Bustle, "2015’s 25 Best Books, Fiction Edition" "Epic, ambitious and strikingly executed, The Turner House is an impressive debut novel. In the grand tradition of family dramas by the late Bebe Moore Campbell, it is lively and entertaining, with subtle humor and engaging voice. Flournoy manages the difficult feat of skillfully telling the stories of 13 children, their parents and accompanying spouses and love interests in an irresistible style. Here we have a deeply satisfying portrayal of relationships among those to whom we, for better or worse, are related by blood."—The Root "Nobody can take you from joyful to infuriated as fast as your brother or sister. Similarly, the ups and downs of the 13 siblings that populate The Turner House, the first novel by Angela Flournoy, whip from laugh-out-loud to heart-crushing. Still, she proves even bonds that have stretched a mile long have the ability to snap back."—Essence Magazine "With The Turner House, Flournoy has written an utterly unsentimental love story that, rather like the house on Yarrow Street, manages to make room for everyone."—Christian Science Monitor "A fierce and tender debut novel...Angela Flournoy is the literary anthropologist of Detroit, not so different from the way a young Philip Roth was the literary anthropologist of Newark."—Paterson Fiction Prize Citation "As a hate-to-admit-it only child, I have always been fascinated by siblings, and The Turner House artfully sketches no less than 13 of them—plus matriarch, patriarch, grandchildren and a handful of supporting characters. Beyond this character balancing act, Angela Flournoy’s novel is also an impressive work of place, illuminating not only the eponymous house, but also the larger city of Detroit, from the Great Migration through white flight and early gentrification."—Literary Hub, "Best Books of 2015" "Beautifully moving...This book is deeply personal but also clearly representative of one American city's hope in the face of tragedy."—BUST "[The] dynamite Detroit debut...The Turner House belongs on the shelf with the very finest books about one of America’s most dynamic, tortured, and resilient cities...There are cracklingly alive scenes inside pawn shops and factories, casinos and living rooms. Flournoy has a deft touch with the verbal and psychological sparring between spouses, siblings, and parents and children...One of Flournoy’s great achievements is that she doesn’t draw attention to the fact that virtually every one of her characters is black. This is just part of the novel’s oxygen and furniture, a Detroit given. Therein lies its quiet strength...Angela Flournoy is an exciting new talent whose debut has enriched Detroit’s flowering literature. Read The Turner House, and I’m sure you’ll join me in waiting, eagerly, to see what its gifted author comes up with next."—The Millions "A masterly domestic drama...Flournoy has a talent for universalising experience from well-observed particulars, and this tale of a black family haunted (literally) by the past and each other is enlivened by perceptive and musical prose."—Sydney Morning Herald "Detroit is a city often portrayed as past rescue, irrevocably blighted. But Flournoy’s debut novel retrieves it from this through vivid details and equally vivid characters."—Time Out New York, "Best Books of 2015" "Sensitively and powerfully, [Flournoy] tells the story of the Turners of Yarrow Street, the 13 children they raised and their east Detroit neighborhood that’s hit hard by the city's economic troubles. Jumping back and forth across 50 years of challenges and change, love and loss, ties that bind and memories that haunt, Flournoy creates a vivid portrait of fictional characters in a real city. This is essential reading."—Detroit Free Press, "The Turner House is a must-read novel of 2015" "The Turner House [is] not only a first novel but a lamentation for and a paean to Detroit, from the mid-1940s to the present day, a funny yet heart-wrenching book, both beautiful and revealing of all the ways close human beings relate to one another (and to places and things) over time."—The Buffalo News
"With the matriarch of a family of 13 siblings in failing health, those who remain close enough to their empty childhood home — in a nearly abandoned East Side Detroit neighborhood — must hash out what to do with the house. Between nostalgia, fraud, secrets and an old ghost, there are as many competing, confounding, unappealing ways forward for the Turners as for their city."—Denver Post, "Best Fiction Books of 2015"
"It's hard to believe that this moving, beautifully written novel is a debut. In The Turner House, Flournoy tells the story of a large family in Detroit trying to figure out what to do with their childhood home, which has depreciated in value because of urban decay."—Men's Journal, "The 35 Best Books of 2015" "A thoroughly engrossing saga. Flournoy is adept at conveying the sense that it is with our families where we can most be ourselves."—Rob Kirby, Rain Taxi "A tale of a city and family in flux, The Turner House is a gripping, nuanced reading, heralding the arrival of a major talent...[It] is reminiscent of other family/city sagas: Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, Jane Smiley’s Some Luck, the [Jeffrey Eugenides's] Middlesex, all stories of places and their inhabitants. Even if all you know of Woodward Avenue comes courtesy of Bob Seger, even if 8 Mile is only a movie title to you, do yourself a favor and read The Turner House. Once you open its pages, you won’t be able to put it down."—PopMatters "A lively, thoroughly engaging family saga with a cast of fully realized characters...[Flournoy] handles time and place with a veteran's ease...She puts her own distinctive stamp on this absorbing narrative."--Publisher's Weekly, starred and boxed review "Encompassing a multitude of themes, including aging and parenthood, this is a compelling read that is funny and moving in equal measure."—Booklist, starred review "Flournoy's writing is precise and sharp...the novel draws readers to the Turner family almost magnetically. A talent to watch."--Kirkus “What makes The Turner House profound is its reality, its observation of a family so diverse and well-drawn that they seem real. . . We rarely find such an honest portrait of what it means to be a sibling—defined by your differences as much as your similarities—as the one Flournoy gives us.”—BookPage "What is rarer, and much more difficult, in a story is to involve numerous family members as point-of-view characters. Faulkner set the standard with As I Lay Dying, and contemporary incarnations like A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan and The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg have run the spectrum. This is exactly the challenge that Angela Flournoy takes on in her debut novel The Turner House, with admirable success...The Turner House is a wonderfully crafted glimpse into the intimacy of family, and shows immense promise for Flournoy."—Bustle "One of the many strengths of this book — entertaining, well-written and keenly insightful without calling attention to itself — is its clear-eyed, unsentimental vision. Flournoy never ignores the problems afflicting family and place — a 13-child clan and Detroit — even as she pays homage to both."—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Utterly moving and tough as nails, The Turner House is a love story as immense as the family it describes, and as complicated as the city that made them. A clear-sighted ode to the bonds that make and break us, to resilience across generations, to shared joys and solitary struggles, Flournoy's debut is as fresh and bold as they come. Commanding and un-putdownable!"—Ayana Mathis, bestselling author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie "An expansive and ambitious novel that descends through the generations of one family’s history to achieve real poignancy and power." —T.C. Boyle, bestselling author of San Miguel, The Women, and many others “The Turner House is a marvelous novel introducing a family of irresistible characters. Angela Flournoy is a magician--here is a story that is charming and funny while being whip-smart and profound. Laced through are the hard facts of history and the mysterious workings of the human heart. The magic begins with the extraordinary first chapter and lasts to the very last page. This is a thrilling debut from a writer to watch.”—Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow and others “Angela Flournoy’s extraordinary debut novel, The Turner House, is as compelling, unforgettable, and beautifully told a story as I’ve read in ages. The real and the supernatural, the hardships and hard won triumphs of the tightly knit, at times warring Turner clan will pull you close to this family’s generous, dignified heart. While each of the thirteen siblings (and their parents) could carry a book on his or her own, here they remain indelibly linked by the complicated bonds of history and belonging—and by the promises of their heartbreak city, Detroit."—Cristina Garcia, author of Dreaming in Cuban, King of Cuba, and others "Angela Flournoy's The Turner House is masterful: a novel full of history and lies and the myths that can bring a family together, or tear it apart. There are touches of grace and humor in this generous and humane portrait of a family, and a city, in transition. This is a beautiful, elegant, and living novel, one that you will savor until the last, moving paragraph." --Daniel Alarcón, author of At Night We Walk in Circles “Angela Flournoy’s brilliant The Turner House is about no less than the joy and aggravation of being a human being in a large family, in a house, in a city, on this earth. This book is so beautifully written, so perfectly observed and heard—it’s about aging and parenthood and above all that misunderstood lifelong union, siblinghood—but it’s also pure pleasure to read: funny, heartbreaking, with the sort of characters you’ll miss like family when you finish. The Turner House is an absolutely wonderful novel.”—Elizabeth McCracken, author of The Giant’s House, Thunderstruck, and others
Debut novelist Flournoy limns the fate of African Americans who have seen their hard-won success in reaching the middle class in a single generation blown to bits by our continuing economic malaise. Viola and Frances Turner arrived in Detroit in 1944 as part of the Great Migration and bought a house in 1951, raising 13 children there. Now, ailing, widowed Viola must leave the house, which she discovers is worth a tenth of its mortgage. All her children converge, as past, present, and future collide.
A complicated portrait of the modern American family emerges in Flournoy's debut novel.For the 13 Turner siblings, the house on Detroit's East Side isn't just their childhood home. It's also the crux of memories of their dead father and a link among 13 very different adults. But the house has built up debt, their ill mother, Viola, lives elsewhere, and a question hangs—what to do with the Yarrow Street house? As the children debate, the narrative divides into the perspectives of Lelah, Troy and Charlie "Cha Cha" Turner, interspersed with their father's flashbacks of surviving in gritty Detroit 60 years earlier. Cha-Cha, the oldest at 64, drives trucks for Chrysler and is recovering from an accident after a vision of a luminous ghost, which he'd last seen 40 years earlier at Yarrow, caused him to veer off the road. Meanwhile, Lelah has been evicted from her apartment due to a gambling addiction and takes up residence in the now-abandoned house. And Troy, a disillusioned policeman, wants to illegally short sell the house to his sometime girlfriend. As the story progresses, the siblings' dilemmas become increasingly knotty. Lelah's roulette addiction, evocatively described—"the chips looked like candy. Pastel, melt-away things that didn't make sense to save"—worsens; Cha-Cha is visited by the ghost, dredging up ugly childhood memories; and Troy tries to con Viola into selling the house. Flournoy ramps up the suspense until, one night, the three are all drawn to Yarrow Street, leading to a fight with intractable results. Flournoy's strength lies in her meticulous examination of each character's inner life. Lelah, who uses gambling as a balm for her fractured relationship with her daughter, is an especially sympathetic character—she seeks "proof that she could be cherished by someone, if only for a while." Flournoy's writing is precise and sharp, and despite several loose ends—Troy doesn't experience significant emotional change by the book's end, and the house's fate remains unclear—the novel draws readers to the Turner family almost magnetically. A talent to watch.
Read an Excerpt
Trouble in the Big Room The eldest six of Francis and Viola Turner’s thirteen children claimed that the big room of the house on Yarrow Street was haunted for at least one night. A ghost — a haint, if you will — tried to pull Cha-Cha out of the big room’s second-story window. The big room was not, in actuality, very big. Could hardly be considered a room. For some other family it might have made a decent storage closet, or a mother’s cramped sewing room. For the Turners it became the only single-occupancy bedroom in their overcrowded house. A rare and coveted space. In the summer of 1958, Cha-Cha, the eldest child at fourteen years, was in the throes of a gangly-legged, croaky-voiced adolescence. Smelling himself, Viola called it. Tired of sharing a bed with younger brothers who peed and kicked and drooled and blanket-hogged, Cha-Cha woke up one evening, untangled himself from his brothers’ errant limbs, and stumbled into the whatnot closet across the hall. He slept on the floor, curled up with his back against dusty boxes, and started a tradition. From then on, when one Turner child got grown and gone, as Francis described it, the next eldest child crossed the threshold into the big room. The haunting, according to the older children, occurred during the very same summer that the big room became a bedroom. Lonnie, the youngest child then, was the first to witness the haint’s attack. He’d just begun visiting the bathroom alone and was headed there when he had the opportunity to save his brother’s life. Three-year-olds are of a tenuous reliability, but to this day Lonnie recalls the form of a pale-hued young man lifting Cha-Cha by his pajama collar out of the bed and toward the narrow window. Back then a majority of the homeowners in that part of Detroit’s east side were still white, and the street had no empty lots. “Cha-Cha’s sneakin out! Cha-Cha’s sneakin out with a white boy!” Lonnie sang. He stamped his little feet on the floorboards. Soon Quincy and Russell spilled into the hallway. 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. Seven-year-old Russell fainted. Little Lonnie stood transfixed, a pool of urine at his feet, his eyes open wide. Quincy banged on his parents’ locked bedroom door. Viola and Francis Turner were not in the habit of waking up to tend to ordinary child nightmares or bed-wetting kerfuffles. Francey, the eldest girl at twelve, burst into the crowded hallway just as Cha-Cha was giving the haint his worst. She would later say the haint’s skin had a jellyfish-like translucency, and the pupils of its eyes were huge, dark disks. “Let him go, and run, Cha-Cha!” Francey said. “He ain’t runnin me outta here,” Cha-Cha yelled back. With the exception of Lonnie, who had been crying, the four Turner children in the hallway fell silent. They’d heard plenty of tales of mischievous haints from their cousins Down South — they pushed people into wells, made hanged men dance in midair — so it did not follow that a spirit from the other side would have to spend several minutes fighting off a territorial fourteen-year-old. Francey possessed an aptitude for levelheadedness in the face of crisis. She decided she’d seen enough of this paranormal beat-down. She marched into Cha-Cha’s room, grabbed her brother by his stretched-out collar, and dragged him into the hall. She slammed the big-room door behind them and pulled Cha-Cha to the floor. They landed in Lonnie’s piss. “That haint tried to run me outta the room,” Cha-Cha said. He wore the indignant look — eyebrows raised, lips parted — of someone who has suffered an unbearable affront. “There ain’t no haints in Detroit,” Francis Turner said. His children jerked at the sound of his voice. That was how he existed in their lives: suddenly there, on his own time, his quiet authority augmenting the air in a room. He stepped over their skinny brown legs and opened the big room’s door. Francis Turner called Cha-Cha into the room. The window was open, and the beige sheets from Cha-Cha’s bed hung over the sill. “Look under the bed.” Cha-Cha looked. “Behind the dresser.” Nothing there. “Put them sheets back where they belong.” Cha-Cha obliged. He felt his father’s eyes on him as he worked. When he finished, he sat down on the bed, unprompted, and rubbed his neck. Francis Turner sat next to him. “Ain’t no haints in Detroit, son.” He did not look at Cha-Cha. “It tried to run me outta the room.” “I don’t know what all happened, but it wasn’t that.” Cha-Cha opened his mouth, then closed it. “If you ain’t grown enough to sleep by yourself, I suggest you move on back across the hall.” Francis Turner stood up to go, faced his son. He reached for Cha-Cha’s collar, pulled it open, and put his index finger to the line of irritated skin below the Adam’s apple. For a moment Cha-Cha saw the specter of true panic in his father’s eyes, then Francis’s face settled into an ambivalent frown. “That’ll be gone in a day or two,” he said. In the hallway the other children stood lined up against the wall. Marlene, child number five and a bit sickly, had finally come out of the girls’ room. “Francey and Quincy, clean up Lonnie’s mess, and all y’all best go to sleep. I don’t wanna hear nobody talkin about they’re tired come morning.” Francis Turner closed his bedroom door. The mess was cleaned up, but no one, not even little Lonnie, slept in the right bed that night. How could they, with the window curtains puffing out and sucking in like gauzy lungs in the breeze? The children crowded into Cha-Cha’s room — a privileged first visit for most of them — and retold versions of the night’s events. There were many disagreements about the haint’s appearance, and whether it had said anything during the tussle with Cha-Cha. Quincy claimed the thing had winked at him as he stood in the hallway, which meant that the big room should be his. Francey said that haints didn’t have eyelids, so it couldn’t have winked at all. Marlene insisted that she’d been in the hall with the rest of them throughout the ordeal, but everyone teased her for showing up late for the show. In the end the only thing agreed upon was that the haint was real, and that living with it was the price one had to pay for having the big room. Everyone, Cha-Cha included, thought the worry was worth it. Like hand-me-down clothes, the legacy of the haint faded as the years went by. For a few years the haint’s appearance and Cha-Cha’s triumph over it remained an indisputable, evergreen truth. It didn’t matter that no subsequent resident of the big room had a night to rival Cha-Cha’s, or that none of them ever admitted to hearing so much as a tap on the window during their times there. The original event was so remarkable that it did not require repetition. Cha-Cha took on an elevated status among the first six children; he had landed a punch on a haint and was somehow still breathing. But with each additional child who came along the story lost some of its luster. By the time it reached Lelah, the thirteenth and final Turner child, Francis Turner’s five-word rebuttal, “Ain’t no haints in Detroit,” was more famous within the family than the story behind it. It first gained a place in the Turner lexicon as a way to refute a claim, especially one that very well might be true — a signal of the speaker’s refusal to discuss the matter further. The first six, confident that Francis Turner secretly believed in the haint’s existence, popularized this usage. By Lelah’s youth, the phrase had mutated into an accusation of leg pulling: “Daddy said if I get an A in Mrs. Paulson’s, he’d let me come on his truckin trip to Oregon.” “Or-e-gone? Come on, man. Ain’t no haints in Detroit.”