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In her debut novel, McKinney-Whetstone evokes the feel and rhythm of a close-knit African-American community. Set in South Philadelphia during the 1940s and 1950s, Tumbling tells the story of Herbie and Noon who, although they have never consummated their marriage, are blessed with daughters when, on two separate occasions, children are left on their doorstep.
Echoes of Toni Morrison's Sula and Jazz pervade—without overwhelming—the story here, though to her credit McKinney- Whetstone's setting (Philadelphia in the 1940s and '50s) is an entirely original landscape in African-American fiction. The pavements and brownstones rattle and hum with the sounds, textures, and spirit of South Philly's black middle- and working-class residents. This is a novel crowded with characters, the most prominent and memorable being Noon, the book's wounded matriarch, a holy roller with a dark past, and her trying, wayward husband Herbie. He is jazz to her gospel, but the score of the couple's marriage changes abruptly when two girls, first an infant, then a five-year-old, are abandoned on their doorstep. The twin discoveries of the children's identities constitute dramatic, though incredible, subplots. More compelling are the girls' eventual love for each other, the chronicle of their adolescent growing pains, and a heated romantic rivalry over a slick developer. The contest for this man's affection unfolds against the specter of a proposed freeway being run through the neighborhood. The threatened displacement of family and friends also rends the girls' relationship. The two are eventually reconciled by the efforts of the novel's most sharp-edged figure, the blues singer Ethel, a hellion entangled with each of the main characters. McKinney-Whetstone convincingly presents the community's fight for self-determination as the outward manifestation of the psychic struggle of African-Americans during a period of tremendous social and cultural turmoil.
A gifted prose writer with a tremendous sense of place, McKinney-Whetstone shows the potential here to move up the ranks of novelists currently exploring the African-American experience.
Right now they slept. Especially if they'd been at Club Royale earlier. They were in a heavy sleep as the moving air wrapped around their chimneys, and stroked their curtained windows, and slid down their banisters. It breezed past the church where the bricks were gray and jutted into the dark air and even shone from the dew that was just beginning to settle. It shimmied over Pop's, the corner store famous for its glass jars filled with sweet pickled pigs' feet. And then dipped past the funeral home owned by the Saunderses, where the Model T hearse was usually parked out front. It blew over theplayground where a makeshift swing hanging with tufted, braided clothesline swayed to the rhythm of the dancing air. And then turned on through a short block where Cardplaying-Rose lived; the light from her basement meant that kings and queens and aces were slapping her fold-up table adorned with piles of red and green chips for quarters and dollars and IOUs. And then the night air moved all through Lombard Street and bounced up and down the long block where Noon and Herbie lived. Right now it caressed a brown cardboard box being slipped onto Noon and Herbie's middle step.
Copyright © 1996 by Diane McKinney-Whetstone
Women, Race, and Class, Angela Davis
July's People, Nadine Gordimer
Killing Rage, bell hooks
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
Sarah's Psalm, Florence Ladd
The Serpent's Gift, Helen Elaine Lee
The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
Sula, Toni Morrison
The Women of Brewster Place, Gloria Naylor
Possessing the Secret of Joy, Alice Walker
The Wedding, Dorothy West
2. Compare and contrast the characters of Noon and Ethel, Liz and Fannie, Willie and Herbie. How do McKinney-Whetstone's female characters differ from her male characters? How do her female characters view her male characters and vice versa? For example, what is Ethel's view of men? What is Liz's?
3. The family at the center of Tumbling -- Noon and Herbie -- is highly unconventional. Describe the ways in which this is so. Discuss the irony implicit in Noon's raising Fannie and Liz. McKinney-Whetstone writes, "Agreeing to Liz's staying just because that's what Noon wanted would keep his spine erect. Keep it from buckling, warping, even snapping in two from the extra weight he carried in his heart." Discuss the irony of Herbie's acceptance of Liz into the family as his way of counteracting the guilt he feels for his infidelity. What problems does this create that keep the family off balance? Discuss the ways in which the family is ultimately a success.
4. Noon spends more than 20 years married to Herbie, unable to consummate their marriage because of a bizarre and cruel sexual attack which took place when she was a young girl. Why doesn't she tell Herbie? Would it have helped? How do you judge Herbie for seeking sexual gratification from other women? Was there anything Herbie might have done that could havehelped Noon overcome her apprehensions? At the close of the novel, Noon is able to consummate her marriage. What finally enables her to do so?
5. Though Ethel is seldom in South Philadelphia living among the other characters of Tumbling, her presence is felt and a strong, vivid portrait of her emerges. Describe this portrait. How does McKinney-Whetstone create and maintain Ethel's presence throughout the novel? How does Ethel become a central figure in Tumbling despite her near constant absence? Discuss her profound impact on the lives of Noon, Herbie, Liz, and Fannie.
6. How does McKinney-Whetstone prepare us for the truth that Ethel is Fannie's mother and Herbie is her father? What clues does she provide?
7. Fannie is blessed with a seeing eye -- a "part of her that could see around corners and sometimes into tomorrow." Do her visions have an effect on the other characters? Do they alter any characters' lives? Do her visions alter events? If so, what events? How does Fannie distinguish between her seeing eye and her imagination?
8. Liz develops an unusual habit of breaking up and actually eating the walls in her closet. The habit begins when she lives with Ethel and continues after she moves in with Noon, Herbie, and Fannie. Her habit grows over the years, and she becomes more and more devoted to hiding it. Why do you think she eats plaster? What does it symbolize? How does she use this habit as a crutch?
9. McKinney-Whetstone does not focus on the subject of racism, yet it is a presence in Tumbling. For example, when the court officer comes to Noon's house to deliver a notice, McKinneyWhetstone writes, "He muttered 'fucking nigger' and pushed past her and was out of the door. 'Got some nerve calling somebody a nigger,' Noon said to his back as she quickly scanned the papers. 'You that, plus a fool....... Where else do we feel the presence of racism in the novel? How does the imminent building of the road become another example of racism? Is there any evidence of compassion between the races?
10. What does the building of the road represent in Tumbling? What does it represent to the characters -- to Noon, to Next-Door-Jeanie, to Willie, to Liz and Fannie? Of what larger metaphor might the road be representative? How does the road serve to galvanize and heighten the relationships in Noon and Herbie's family as well as in the community? It turns out that the road is a fraud. What lies beneath this deception? And since the road becomes the central crisis in the novel, the fact that it is a deception casts the story in a new light. What is this new light?
11. Secrets play an important role in Tumbling. Almost everyone has one-Noon, Herbie, Willie, Ethel, Liz, Fannie, and Reverend Schell. What are their secrets and what effect does keeping them have on their relationships to one another? By the end of the novel are all the secrets revealed? How are the characters' relationships altered by the revelation of secrets? What effect do secrets have on a family?
Posted October 5, 2010
Tumbling is one of the quintessential books for lovers of epic tales that follow a family from the the beginning to a dramatic end. This is not a another gangster tale but a narrative of a family trying to survive in the post Civil Rights era and shows a neighborhood that is attempting to move forward.
The tale follows to sisters, different in more ways then can be imagined, and their hardworking yet loving parents through a series of incidents that are weaved like silk. You will come to love the characters in this book immediately and you will remember their names for all time.
This is quite simply one of the best books I have ever read.
Posted August 13, 2009
This book was really entertaining. All the characters were great and could be related to on different levels, especially if your from Philly. "Tumbling" packs a powerful punch with a touch of old school and a lesson on the importance of family.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Once again Mrs. Whetstone masters another story...I read this book after reading Blues Dancing, Leaving Cecil Street, and Tempest Rising. And all have consistently been great!!! What a talented writer Whetstone is. In Tumbling she tackles family, love, and loyalty. I LOVED IT!!! You'll fall in love with the characters...even no good Willie Mann, so read it!!! You won't be sorry...Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 31, 2008
I am so pleased to have stumbled across this book! I was sorry that I hadn't know about it when it was originally published.<BR/><BR/>The writing is excellent, the characters are familiar and the story line is captivating!<BR/><BR/>I am looking for more books by this author -- she is a winner!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 24, 2007
The book was an absolute page turner. You were in the moment and felt what they felt. Though you could imagine what would happen next,you had to read it to find out.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 1, 2005
Posted October 26, 2004
This book put you in the lives of these characters so vividly. I felt like I knew them all, I felt like I lived in that time period. It was well written and I just could not put it down. A must read! It's what love & family are made of.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 27, 2004
Almost everyone has deep, dark secrets that they feel should never see the light of day. For some it may be childhood feelings of insecurity, rejection from a should-be lover, the scars of abuse gone unchecked, or shame beyond measure. But, how often do we take the time to peel those layers of hurt and pain away from our psyches as we attempt to go on about our daily lives? Not often, and such is the case for the characters of 'Tumbling', Diane McKinney Whetstone's brilliant debut novel. 'Tumbling' centers around one of our most basic desires as human beings--the desire to love and to be loved in return. Set in a blue collar community in Philadelphia, ''Tumbling' explores the lives of several ordinary citizens--ordinary meaning that they all have their crosses to bear. Noon, abused as a child has lost the right to her 'womanliness.' Herbie, her husband, is the hapless victim caught up in a no-win situation--loving his 'good' wife, while seeking fulfillment in the arms of a sexy, nightclub singer named Ethel. When Herbie comes home late from a jaunt at Club Royale and finds a deserted infant on his steps, he and Noon's lives are given new meaning. They are blessed several years later with a playmate for their only child in the form of another abandoned castaway. With plenty of love to divert their attention away from themselves, Herbie and Noon are content to raise their children with the very best that they have to offer. However, their refusal to deal with and resolve past issues comes back to haunt them, and what was once maintained in nice, neat, organized bundles becomes the crumbling plaster that makes the walls come tumbling down. - Rosalind Stormer, author of 'Healing the Breach', Flavah ReviewerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 13, 2002
Though this book definitely captivated my attention, there were just some points that made it 'oh too good to be true'. Everyone who's read the book knows about the 'problem' that the wife, Noon had with her husband Herbie. That in itself seemed a little unrealistic to me. The fact that a man and a woman can be married 20 years and not consummate that marriage is way too far-fetched. Even the reason why the wife is so cold towards her husband was stretched out far beyond the limits of actual reality. Then the two girls left on their doorstep for them to raise-to be honest, I don't think that things like this happen in African-American communities, especially in the 1940's. I think the writer was very explicit when it came to detail, and this is what I appreciated most about the story. The author is undoubtly talented, although I felt that the story should have been played down a bit in order to make the reader be able to access it a little better. I appreciate great fiction, but when that fiction is stretched beyond the limits, it almost has a sort of supernatural appeal to it, which definitely does not suit novels that are supposed to reflect the struggle of blacks in America. Despite my negative aspects of the book, I personally think it is worth checking out.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 18, 2002
Posted April 18, 2002
I enjoyed the author. It was refreshing to read a story with seem-so-real characters. The 40s and 50s southern living made me wish for those days again. It was also refreshing to read a story line without the hip-hop flavor. I could not put the book down and the ending will surprise you. I immediately started looking for other books she wrote and will order the Tempest Rising and Blue Dancing.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 28, 2001
If you've never read McKinney-Whetstone's work, do it NOW! Her novels are so engaging. She gives just enough detail to make you feel like you're right there. I've read all her books and I all of them are my favorites. Please read Tumbling, then Tempest Rising, then Blues Dancing. They're all really good. If you really like to read and get engrossed in novels, then her books are for you. I hate when a good book ends. I've read one of her books three times.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 27, 2001
This book is one of three books and I have yet to find an author that has the same writing style that she does. The book grabs from the beginning and even after reading it, you are still left wondering when is this author going to write another book?! THE ABSOLUTE BEST BOOK (besides Blessings and Tempest Rising)I have read. I HIGHLY recommend it!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 3, 2001
Tumbling gives a great insight on the life of nortern african americans in the ealy fourties. This is a book about a black coulpes struggle with thir marriage and raising two girls that were left on their doorstep. This book shows you how to contiue going even when times get hard. It shows you how you can keep the faith in God when times are at their worst and know that he will come right on time. I found it to be inspirational. These were some of the hardeat times for blacks, but Noon and Herbie showed that anything is possible.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 19, 2001
A book I could not put down! From cover to cover it has you feeling like you are right there in the midst of all the drama. The author out-did herself on this one. She is wonderful!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 29, 2000
What a fabulously woven tale! Although I had a good guess on a few things that turned out to be correct, I was never bored or disappointed. I look forward to reading other books by Whetstone.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 28, 2000
'Tumbling' is one of the best books that i have read. I couldn't force myself to put it down. The author did an outstanding job with the characters and the story as a whole.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 9, 2000
Posted February 13, 2000
The sign of the times is definetly evident in 'Tumbling.' The History of bebop, saddness of war, love affairs, and child abandonment lies within all family tree lines with drama. Most times it's never told, but the secrets is what makes Tumbling a page turner. A good sub-title would be 'Secrets' or 'Bebop times in Philadelphia.' Overall McKinney-Whetstone keeps it real with the family. She demonstrates how people we love and trust, hurt us the most and this never fails. I liked the part most about religion and God which is, presented to the reader as separate issues. Tumbling proves that it's how you find God within yourself and the way you see it ----- just so long as you see it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 4, 2000
This short nover was so good to read, I liked how the characters related with one another..The story line was very realistic. I would suggest everyone to read this one, reading is wonderful for your mind.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.