Books on Tap, recently featured in C-ville Weekly, discussed Angela Flournoy’s debut novel Turner House in February at Champion Brewery. Drawing on her own family’s stories, Flournoy brings to life a family of 13 adult siblings who must come to a decision on the fate of the family home in a decimated neighborhood in Detroit. While giving each character a distinct voice, she charts their economic, spiritual and personal struggles and triumphs as they deal with addiction, rivalries and secrets. Cha-Cha, the oldest, has had an accident that reminds him of the spirit, or “haint” that has been part of family lore for years. (Could the haint be a product of brain damage incurred in the accident?) Lelah, the youngest, is embarrassed to share her latest setbacks with anyone. Factions form after their mother moves in with Cha-Cha and the family must come to an agreement with what to do with family home, now worth almost nothing on the market.
We debated if the large family was a gimmick but thought the unique voices set it apart. Some of us made a cheat sheet to keep track of everyone. The family dynamics rang true for those of us who grew up in large families. Those with the most problems tend to be the ones getting the most attention. Those with the most responsibility tend to keep the family together and when they are gone, siblings don’t interact as often. While the novel isn’t plot-driven, the characters’ search for acceptance provided an epiphany.
While the city of Detroit could be considered a character in the novel, many of our readers felt that this story was universal and could be told in many Rust Belt cities such as Cleveland, Newark, and Baltimore. Readers shared their experiences of living in cities in the aftermath of the riots of the 1960s and how that crisis and the shift from industrial work has changed those areas. Many of us felt that race wasn’t explicitly addressed, but that subtly made the story more universal. We all look forward to reading this new author’s next work.
Belt Magazine interview with Flournoy
New York Times review of Turner House
Washington Post article on mental health
Paris Review interview with Flournoy and a short story about Lelah
Virginia Festival of the Book appearance information.
Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston and its influence on this book.
Join us on Thursday, March 3rd to discuss The Heart is the Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers as part of the Big Read.
April’s selection is George Saunders’ short story collection Tenth of December.