Cha-Cha’s ghost is back. Decades after a brief and terrifying visitation, the shadowy blue light, or haint, as Charles ‘Cha-Cha’ Turner, the eldest of Francis and Viola’s thirteen children calls it, has returned with confusing frequency. What is it and why has it reappeared now, distracting Cha-Cha from his job, his elderly mother who has moved in with him, and his increasingly dissatisfied wife? Lelah, Cha-Cha’s youngest sister, knows well her own demons. She’s a failure at her 12- step program, her job, and her maternal responsibilities. She looks for what we all desire: love, security, and a roof over our heads.
Their story is wrapped around the predicament of the deteriorating family house on Yarrow Street in Detroit and mirrors the sad decline of this city following the Great Recession. Abandoned, fodder for thieves, and worth less than the outstanding mortgage, the house nonetheless bonds the now-grown children in their common desire to hold onto it, even though their surviving parent, Viola, is approaching death. Such is the power of home and its ability to root a family in spirit, if no longer in practice.
Interspersed with the present day are flashbacks of the patriarch, Francis, in 1945, and his struggles with post-war racism, economic hardship, and alcoholism. His shifting sense of familial responsibility mirrors Cha-Cha’s in ways that inform the son’s self-image and actions.
The prose displays a quiet dignity as if each member of the family understands the hardships before them. Some are more accepting. Others determined to fight, but a common narrative style throughout mirrors the grace of the Turners as they face their struggles. I did feel, however that the frequently shifting point of view, sometimes within a scene, at times lessened gathering tension.
The Turner House (April 2015) is a quiet novel with little external conflict. The conflict is primarily internal, watching each of the major characters challenge their demons. Few questions really need to be answered. Will it matter if they ultimately lose possession of the house? More immediate is how the relationships within the family are smoothed and settled.
Though my life experience (only 2 siblings!) was substantively different from the Turners by most measurements, I felt easily connected to this large and messy family, such were the memorable characters she created. We all live the life we’re handed, the psychic scars impacting us in known and unknown ways. What is obvious is that Flournoy has created a family of strong bonds and enduring love.
I recommend this lovely novel to adult audiences.
Reviewed by Carol Malkin
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