The Turner House

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The Turner House
352 pages; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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What is most exciting about Angela Flournoy’s debut novel, The Turner House, is that while history is everywhere in it—haunting its characters, embedded in the walls of the titular house and in the crumbling streets of Detroit-the book tingles with immediacy. Flournoy has written an epic that feels deeply personal. Through the Turners–Viola and Francis and their 13 children, all of them strive to leave behind memories of hopelessness and partake of the American dream—she tells the story of the Great Migration. The book is ambitious but never pedantic because Lelah, Cha-Cha, and the others who grew up on Yarrow Street feel so much like living, breathing people. When Lelah—who’s hit bottom at age 41 after losing her job and her apartment (not to mention her pride) to a gambling addiction—sits at a roulette table deliberating whether to place another bet, we feel her anguish and her adrenaline rush. When her lover discovers she is squatting in the now abandoned home where she grew up, we expect both her shame and the liberation confession brings.

As the oldest of the clan, Cha-Cha is the center of gravity, the one everyone depends on. He's thrown off balance by the reappearance of a haint he first saw as a child, which causes him to crash his truck and ultimately rethink his life. The scenes in the office of the therapist he's mandated to see after the accident are poignant and unsettling—they gleam with both the possibility of growth and the risk of never being able to return to the person he once was.

Growing up, Flournoy spent time in her grandparents' Detroit home, where they raised their 13 children. In writing the book, she was inspired by something Zora Neale Hurston once said, "Mouths don't empty themselves unless the ears are sympathetic and knowing." In the end, it is Flournoy's finely tuned empathy that infuses her characters with a radiant humanity.
— Leigh Haber