Identity figures heavily in The Turner House, Angela Flournoy’s novel about a family of fifteen set in Detroit, Michigan. The book follows the eldest Turner son, Charles, (a.k.a., “Cha-Cha”) and the youngest Turner daughter, Lelah, who in their own ways, are struggling to find a place for themselves in the present by conquering what haunts them from their past.
For Cha-Cha, it’s a ghost — a haint that visited him as a child in the big house on Yarrow Street. This spectre is a hereditary apparition who also visited Turner patriarch Francis as a young man until he left the country for life in the city of Detroit. For Lelah, it’s a gambling addiction that causes serial eviction, a tenuous relationship with her only daughter Brianne, and of course, financial collapse.
When you have 13 children in a single family, everyone is attention starved. Each Turner child jockeys for validation. They often talk over one another, interrupt, act out, and change the subject in an ongoing attempt to capture attention. Lelah gambles in search of silence and with 13 siblings, make no wonder.
This search for silence felt all too true to me. My dad grew up in a family of 11 and my mom grew up in a family of nine, but that truth as depicted in The Turner House, carried the weight and fatigue of familiarity. It reminded me too much of how some people (close family) routinely interrupt, talk over others, and change the subject to this day in that constant wearying bid for attention — even in much smaller gatherings, of say, two.
I’d hoped for something different — something deeper to come from the sheer possibilities inherent in the story of 13 siblings and their exponentially interwoven relationships. With 11 siblings orbiting around the stories of Cha-Cha and Lelah, they and their stories seemed flat. I can’t help but wonder if one or two or three of the other Turners examined more closely might have made for more intense reading.
I discovered this book in the final round of The Morning News’ 2016 Tournament of Books. It was voted second overall next to The Sellout by Paul Beatty.
— March – April, 2016