Review: The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

The Turner House by Iowa graduate Angela Flournoy begins with the detailed and extensive Turner family tree. With 13 children, their spouses, children and grandchildren, it’s easy to get overwhelmed or make false assumptions about the novel. Don’t. Just turn the page. Read what is the greatest opening chapter of any novel so far this year and be prepared to lose yourself in a remarkable novel.

It’s 2008 in Detroit and Viola, the matriarch of the Turner family, becomes ill and moves in with her eldest son Charles (Cha-Cha), leaving the once full and bustling east side family home vacant. With his father passed, Cha-Cha has assumed a paternal role over his brothers and sisters, a position that “affords (him) a lot of respect but not much true friendship, or a sense of individuality.” As he tries to coordinate a consensus among his family about the house, he faces issues of his own that call into question the stability of his marriage and what he feels to be his own origin story.

With so many family members in the mix, Flournoy wisely connects readers with two: Cha-Cha, the oldest, and Lelah, the youngest. From their present-day narratives Flournoy moves back to the 1940s when their parents first connected, providing wonderful perspective on family leaders often seen by children from an emotional distance.

But Francis had his own fears and coming of age, and the Turner children — and grandchildren — do as well, as siblings learn to confront one another about the past and about the anxieties that come when roles reverse: when children become parents, and parents become dependent.

Beautifully written by an incredible writer, The Turner House is as moving, funny, and unpredictable as a house party for 13 siblings and their families. You’ll wish you could stay all night.