The Turner House by Angela Flournoy Book Review

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

The Turner House by Angela FlournoyThe Turner House by Angela Flournoy
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 14th, 2015
Source: Publisher
Pages: 320
Buy from IndieBound

 

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.

 

  • Bummer this one wasn’t better-structured! I do love the imagery in the quotation you chose, melancholy as it is. Is this her debut work?

    • It is…and I really loved the way she wrote, for the most part, I think there were just a few missteps with the structure. I’ll definitely pick up her next book!

  • Part of me is now interested in this novel due to the seeming treatment of location as character. My mother was born in Michigan and I listened to the audio of Detroit: An American Autopsy and was fascinated (in a good/not good way). Not sure the story is for me, but I’ll take a closer looks now.

    • Having Detroit to hang on to definitely helped me hang on, but I’m not sure if I would have been as engaged without it. There were so many elements that should have worked for me, it just didn’t all come together quite right.

  • I think it’s great that you found a connection to this story that allowed you to get past the flaws; this passage reminds me of descriptions I’ve heard from a friend who moved to Arkansas from the Detroit area. Thanks so much for highlighting this one; I’ll be on the look out, as well!

    • She definitely captured the essence and mood of the area really well. The book wasn’t a home run for me, but I’m interested in what she’ll do next.

  • Lindsey Stefan

    I’ve been waffling about this one. I always like the idea of family sagas, but in the past I’ve been disappointed by ones revolving around a house. Thanks for sharing what you thought!

  • Family sagas have never been much my thing but you have made it sound different than the typical family drama book.

  • I’ve seen this around, and too bad it couldn’t come together fully. I do enjoy a family saga…

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  • Family sagas aren’t my thing, but a couple of my fave reviewers have said great things about The Turner House. I’m at least going to give it a try!

  • Even when a book is a miss for me, I’m always excited to discover an author whose writing style works for me :)

  • I have a kind of fascination with Detroit, so I was totally hooked on the description of this novel at the beginning, but since it wasn’t a complete win for you, I’m torn!

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