The Turner House is the debut novel by Angela Flournoy. Francis and Viola Turner moved to Detroit from Arkansas and raised 13 children in the house on Yarrow Street. All the kids are grown with children of their own, Francis is dead, Viola is recovering from a stroke and living with her oldest son, Cha-Cha, and the old house on Yarrow Street is now worth far less than the mortgage due on it. The siblings are not in agreement about what should be done with the house, especially since Viola will likely never be able to return there to live on her own.
Most of the novel revolves around either Cha-Cha, Lelah (the youngest), or the back story of Frances and Viola and the early days of their marriage and time in Detroit. It’s a solid family saga, but it suffers from comparison to two other novels. The first is Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler that I wrote about a few weeks ago and is also in the ToB. Spool features fewer characters (siblings) so their personalities and sibling interactions are more fully developed. Also, Tyler makes the house itself feel more important and I also like the construction of that novel better, there is a little less skipping around between time periods. And how should an author deal with a family of 13? I also preferred the Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis. That novel reads more like a series of connected short stories where each chapter is about a different character in the family.
I don’t usually compare novels so directly, maybe it’s just the atmosphere of the Tournament that has me in this mood. The Turner House held together as one story and it also shed a spotlight on urban blight and the racial segregation of neighborhoods. Maybe Flournoy just tried to do a little too much…too big a family, too many social issues, too many threads that wove together a bit too loosely for me. Based on the brackets, it looks unlikely that The Turner House and Spool Of Blue Thread will go head-to-head. This was oh-so-close to being a book that I loved and I will definitely check out future works by Flournoy.