Loads of Learned Lumber

Friday, April 14, 2017

Angela Flournoy, _The Turner House_

OUR BOOK CLUB'S selection for February.  It has taken me a while to get around to writing about it, but I enjoyed it. 

One is always a little anxious picking up a novel that opens with a family tree, but Flournoy keeps the narrative trim and efficient by focusing on five weeks in the lives of the oldest and the youngest of Francis and Viola Turner's thirteen children. 

The eldest, trucker Charles (a.k.a "Cha-Cha") Turner, saw a ghost ("haint") in adolescence and again at various intervals as an adult. Sidelined by an accident brought on by one such untimely appearance, he goes through a kind of senior crisis, including a bit-too-intimate course of counseling that threatens his marriage, but achieves resolution by novel's end.

The youngest, Lelah, now in her early forties, has been undone by a gambling addiction that seems about to sink her once and for all, but she too seems to emerge by novel's end--there are hints that the enchantment of the chips has been broken.

Threaded throughout the novel are short glimpses from the family's Origin Story, set in the1940s. Francis has moved to Detroit, leaving his recently-wed young wife Viola and newborn Cha-Cha behind in Arkansas until he can get things settled and send for them. Even knowing, as we do, that he did get things settled and did send for them, the story of their time apart is a bit of a nail-biter, heavy with temptations, uncertainties, contingencies. Nothing about keeping a family intact is easy, one gathers.

Nothing about anything is easy for the Turners, really, living as they do in Detroit during the city's inexorable deceleration of recent decades. A few things work out, a lot don't. They do stick together, though.

The style is swift, sometimes lyrical, Iowa-honed. Good book.

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