Tumbling: A Novel

Tumbling: A Novel

by Diane McKinney-Whetstone

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Overview

Tumbling: A Novel by Diane McKinney-Whetstone

“Even the air is palpable in Tumbling...The story moves forth on the power of Ms. McKinney-Whetstone’s characters. Ms. McKinney-Whetstone captures the formidable struggle to protect both a community and a family.” —New York Times Book Review

“Warm and intimate.... Tumbling is an accomplished novel, with sharply drawn characters, exuberant prose, plenty of period detail and a wise, forgiving outlook on family life.” — Los Angeles Times Book Review

The beloved bestselling debut novel that launched the luminous career of Diane McKinney Whetstone, critically acclaimed author of Tempest Rising, Blues Dancing, Leaving Cecil Street, and Trading Dreams at Midnight. Writing in a style as accessible as Terry McMillan (Waiting to Exhale, How Stella Got Her Groove Back), yet with the literary touches of Toni Morrison (Beloved, Song of Solomon), McKinney Whetstone’s Tumbling is the “warm and wonderful” (Nikki Giovanni), beautiful and uplifting story of Noon and Herbie and their tight-knit Philadelphia neighborhood in the 1940s and 50s.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061792120
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/29/2010
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 412,807
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

The author of the critically acclaimed novels Tumbling, Tempest Rising, Blues Dancing, Leaving Cecil Street, and Trading Dreams at Midnight, Diane McKinney-Whetstone is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Black Caucus of the American Library Association’s Literary Award for Fiction, which she won twice. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband. For more on Diane McKinney-Whetstone please visit www.mckinney-whetstone.com or follow her on Twitter @Dianemckwh.

Read an Excerpt

The black predawn air was filled with movement. Its thin coolness rushed through the streets of South Philly, encircling the tight, sturdy row houses. In l940 the blocks were clean and close. The people who lived here scrubbed their steps every morning until the sand in the concrete sparkled like diamond pins. Then some went to work mopping floors and cooking meals for rich folks, or cleaning fish at the dock, or stitching fine leather shoes or pinch-pleated draperies at the factories on the north side. Some answered phones or crumpled paper for the government. Some tended house and nursed babies. A few were really nurses. One or two taught school. Unless it was the weekend. On the weekend the blocks came to life. They'd cram into Club Royale, where redheaded olives danced in gold-colored liquid. And the music flowed like bubbly. And brown faces laughed for real, not the mannered tee-hees of the workday, but booming laughs. And Sunday they shouted in church and felt the sweet release where grand hats rocked, and high heels stomped or went clickety-clack depending on how the spirit hit.

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

What People are Saying About This

Nikki Giovanni

What a wonderful experience to come out into the world of Noon and her kin. A warm and wonderful debut.

Richard Perry

Tumbling makes me marvel. It is smooth, sure-footed, wise as old folks, hip-hop street-smart, a beam of laser light that illuminates the heart of the human condition. Don't be surprised when you're moved to tears.

Reading Group Guide

1. What details does McKinney-Whetstone provide that so wonderfully evoke the setting of that South Philly neighborhood during the forties and fifties? How do McKinney-Whetstone's colorful characters, such as Next-Door-Jeanie and Cardplaying-Rose enliven this neighborhood and further evoke the setting? How does the setting help define the themes in Tumbling?

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?

Introduction

Reading Group Discussion Points

  1. What details does McKinney-Whetstone provide that so wonderfully evoke the setting of that South Philly neighborhood during the forties and fifties? How do McKinney-Whetstone's colorful characters, such as Next-Door-Jeanie and Cardplaying-Rose enliven this neighborhood and further evoke the setting? How does the setting help define the themes in Tumbling?

  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 judgeHerbie for seeking sexual gratification from other women? Was there anything Herbie might have done that could have helped 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?
Recommended Readings

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

Customer Reviews

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Tumbling 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
ssgbutlerec More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BookLover223 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
jazzlover320 More than 1 year ago
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...
LeoQueen More than 1 year ago
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.

The writing is excellent, the characters are familiar and the story line is captivating!

I am looking for more books by this author -- she is a winner!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This one was the best she's ever written! And I like all of her books. I haven't read one yet that I didn't like...
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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 Reviewer
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i fell that this book had a great story, and it seamed very realistic. I is something that can happen in real life and it had a great ending.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read 'Tumbling' also, they are both excellent books! Ms. Whetstone is a wonderful writer.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was an easy read with beliveable characters. i couldn't put it down.