Two signs that I am getting old:
- Childhood heroes are dying (see Prince, David Bowie).
- Events which I lived through are now being brought back to me through the arts (see Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing, OJ’s trial, and the 2008 housing crisis).
It is the 2008 housing crisis that Flournoy takes up in her stunning debut novel, The Turner House. The Turner House is located in Detroit and the mother of the 13 children has finally – because of medical issues – had to move out. The family gathers to discuss what to do with the house and new vocabulary enters their lives — short-sell, foreclosure, etc.. There is a lot of discussion. The problem is that there are at least 2 plans. Some of the 13 children have remained in Detroit; others have scattered. The house has a history, particularly for Cha-Cha (Charles), the eldest. Something happened there when he was a child, something that needs a reckoning. Flournoy wisely lifts just a few of the siblings out of the crowd (the ones who remain), and she makes them so vivid that I think I’d know them if I saw them on the street. Naturally, the action centers around the house, the house they are all drawn back to – the one their mother knows she will never inhabit again.
Flournoy also takes us back in time to explain how the Turner family came to end up in Detroit, and the back-story is just as compelling as the contemporary one. Things are revealed, when they need to be, and Cha-Cha’s reckoning is both gripping and true.
Despite some occasional struggles with didactic dialogue, Flournoy’s writing is sublime. She glides between the specific and the general, between the present and the past, between the South and the North, and between the natural and the supernatural in a way that reminds me of Toni Morrison.
I cannot wait to see what she does next.