Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 14th, 2015
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For over fifty years, Francis and Viola Turner lived in their home on Detroit’s East Side, raising their thirteen children in what was once a comfortable neighborhood. But following Francis’ death, Viola moves from the home and leaves it to sit empty. Fueled by the onset of illness, the Turner children come together to discuss the future of the house, which lost its value in Detroit’s recent decline, and the memories it holds for all of them.
I grew up in a suburb of Detroit and my family still lives in the area, so I felt a natural pull toward the writing about the city, which is featured prominently in The Turner House. Flournoy is able to weave Detroit’s history, mood and structure into her story like an additional character. Far from the ruin porn of crumbling images, here the descriptions tell of transformations—not just of buildings, but the people themselves.
“What depressed him more than the ruined factory were the houses farther up the boulevard that he’d coveted growing up, now blighted and abandoned. Those big houses, with their high porches so far off from the street, could have easily housed a family with thirteen children. Now the wide center islands on some blocks were so over grown with weeds and grass, a child could hide in them.”
Flournoy makes the wise decision to focus her novel on a small piece of the Turner family rather than splitting the story into thirteen narratives. Sadly, the structure of The Turner House ends up making even the more focused storyline seem fragmented. Shifting between the modern-day lives of several Turner children and their parents’ move to Detroit in the 1940’s misses the impact it aims for and leaves the novel’s characters feeling disconnected.
Still, most of the characters Flournoy creates are well-drawn when at the forefront. Though I missed the complete picture I was hoping to see in The Turner House, I did find talent in a writer I’ll be watching and managed to take a trip back home.