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4.7 24
by Diane McKinney-Whetstone

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In this deeply textured debut novel, the feel and rhythm of a close-knit African-American community is evoked. Set in South Philadelphia during the 1940s and 1950s, Tumbling combines the mood of an urban community with the vitality of its inhabitants to tell a story in which sorrow and joy come in equal measure.

At the heart of the story is Herbie and Noon,


In this deeply textured debut novel, the feel and rhythm of a close-knit African-American community is evoked. Set in South Philadelphia during the 1940s and 1950s, Tumbling combines the mood of an urban community with the vitality of its inhabitants to tell a story in which sorrow and joy come in equal measure.

At the heart of the story is Herbie and Noon, who care deeply for each other but have been unable to consummate their marriage because of a vicious sexual attack in Noon's past. While Noon finds comfort and solace in her church, club-hopping Herbie finds friendship and sexual gratification with jazz singer named Ethel.

Herbie and Noon are blessed with daughters when, on two separate occasions, children are left on their doorstep. On the advice of the community, they take the children into their home, where the girls become inseparable, as if blood sisters.

When a devastating city proposal threatens to put a road through the area, the community must pull together to avoid being pulled apart. Noon becomes the unexpected leader in the struggle to keep both her home and her family whole.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Sunday morning in South Philly, according to McKinney-Whetstone, is "like buttermilk," with "a quiet smoothness to it." The same can be said of this remarkable first novel. A gentle portrait of an African American community in South Philadelphia in the 1940s and '50s, the story probes beneath its residents' lives to tell a powerful tale of damage and healing. Noon is a Florida preacher's daughter too scarred from a secret childhood incident to let a man touch her; her husband, Herbie, is a redcap who met her when he was a hepcat jazz drummer touring with fiery singer Ethel. When newborn Fannie and, five years later, Ethel's five-year-old orphan niece, Liz, are abandoned on Noon and Herbie's doorstep, the embrace of community allows the creation of a family. Many women struggle in private against pain-especially Liz, who hides in the closet and eats plaster to deal with what she knows about Herbie and Ethel. Fannie's prescient visions and her wish to stave off the inevitable underscore an ambivalent view of the power of change. As the threat looms of a highway to be built through the church-centered neighborhood, individual characters find their fates, and the delicately passionate narrative coalesces around a soul-galvanizing metaphor of bricks and mortar and spirit. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club selection. Author tour. (May)
Library Journal
It's been almost a year since Herbie and Noon were married, and still they've had no sexual contact. When Herbie finds a baby on their porch steps one night, he hopes things will change. When nothing happens, he continues to stay out late into the night and takes up with a local club singer. The club singer suddenly leaves to pursue another job, leaving her five-year-old niece in Herbie's care. Thus, Herbie and Noon now must raise two children, one who seems to have the ability to see into the future and another who enjoys eating the plaster off their closet walls. This is an intelligently written first novel set in Philadelphia during the 1940s. The author captures the time, emotions, and lives of the characters well, even if the novel slows down around the midway point. All in all, this will do well in large fiction collections.Shenise Ross, New York
Nikki Giovanni
What a wonderful experience to tumble into the world of Noone and her kin. A wonderful debut.
Victoria Valentine
Much like authors Gloriea Naylor and Connie Porter, McKinney-Whetstone has a knack for bringing the homes and neighborhoods of ordinary, hardworking black folks to life....A wonderful novel that follows a loving family's tumbles through life. -- San Francisco Chronicle
Cassandra Spratling
McKinney—Whetstone's debut novel presents a story full of suspense, tragedy, humor and, above all else, love—love as family and community.
—Cassandra Spratling,
Chicago Tribune
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. Prepare for deep laughter. Don't be surprised when you are moved to tears.
—(Richard Perry, author of No Other Tale To Tell)
Jabari Asim
McKinney—Whetstone's remarkably skillful first effort should place her at the forefront of a generation of emerging African—American women novelists.
—Jabari Asim, The Washington Post Book World
Kirkus Reviews
A bouncy, moody, musical—if improbable—debut by an author who, like a good blues singer, is strong on style and interpretation even while covering familiar material.

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.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
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Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

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.

Meet 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.

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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.