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The Turner House, Angela Flournoy, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015, 338 pp
Summary from Goodreads: The Turners live on Yarrow Street for over fifty years. Their house sees thirteen children get grown and gone—and some return; it sees the arrival of grandchildren, the fall of Detroit's East Side, and the loss of a father. Despite abandoned lots, an embattled city, and the inevitable shift outward to the suburbs, the house still stands. But now, as their powerful mother falls ill and loses her independence, the Turners might lose their family home. Beset by time and a national crisis, the house is worth just a tenth of its mortgage. The Turner children are called back to decide its fate and to reckon with how each of their pasts might haunt—and shape—their family's future.
Here we have another one of those stories where the grown children must decide what to do with the family home. Except this family is black and the house is in a section of Detroit, MI, decimated by the 2008 crash, by drugs, crime and homeless people, etc, etc. It is more similar to Loving Day than it is to The Past. Even so, families are families and the offspring always have issues with their parents and each other.
Detroit was the closest city to me when I lived in Ann Arbor, MI, but when I moved to California in 1991 it was still a fairly vibrant city. Just a decade later the population began a steep downtrend as Ford Motor Company moved auto production to other cities causing a major loss of jobs. By 2013, the city declared bankruptcy.
The Turners had lived on an East Side street for over fifty years. From the boom years and through the bust, they raised 13 children in a three bedroom house on the earnings of truck driving Mr Turner. The novel moves back and forth from the present to the postwar past, telling the story of the parents' move to the city from the South in the late 1940s and exposing the fault lines in the family.
Thirteen siblings and their spouses and children would have made an unwieldy character list but the author provides a family tree and focuses on four of the siblings as well as their aging widowed mother. She had been the force behind the family but is now on her deathbed.
When most of the brothers and sisters gather to decide what to do with their now empty family home, the house is only worth a tenth of the refinanced mortgage still due. All of the disparate circumstances of their adult lives come into play and and an old tale about a ghost seen by Charles, the eldest son, when he was just a boy plays a large part in the story. (Loving Day had ghosts too!)
The novel is wonderfully constructed, very American in it scope of dreams chased, hopes dashed, and secrets kept, with the decaying city as a background. Racism is a situation but not the major one. What I got from it is a picture of how the changing fortunes of America have affected people who exist in the lower middle class tier of our society and that is primarily an economic story.
The dust cover blurb calls the novel "a celebration of the ways in which our families bring us home." I would call it a study in how the underside of the American Dream takes its toll on even the strongest of families while it prevents families from fully developing that fabled strength.
(The Turner House is currently available in paperback on the shelves at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)