I bought One Hundred Years of Solitude as a treat for myself right before I went to live in England for a year, and it was like if I had bought myself a bag full of delicious Reese’s peanut butter cups for a plane snack and then when I got on the plane I discovered it was just lumps of jicama inside the wrappers. (I hate jicama so much, I can’t even tell you. It makes my skin crawl just to think about it.) So I will never be won by a plethora of reviews comparing any book to Gabriel García Márquez, as everyone has been doing with this book, but I will always be won by the Act Four bloggers saying “read this thing,” and they did, so I did.
If you were wondering, it’s not really anything like Gabriel García Márquez.
It’s impossible to write a synopsis of this book that actually conveys what it’s about, so I’ll just say that it is about family dynamics, Detroit, mortgages, homes, ghosts, and addiction, and that it wears all of these things lightly, with an assurance that would be impressive in a veteran author.
This is Flournoy’s debut novel. I love the phrase “debut novel.” I like the image of a book as the herald of a person in the writing scene. Here is a person who writes! Pay attention to her! And you should definitely pay attention to Angela Flournoy. The Turner House is damn good.
Flournoy doesn’t fall into the trap that catches many writers dealing with an ensemble cast, of trying and failing to make all the siblings equally interesting. For most of the book, we’re with three of the siblings (Cha-Cha, Troy, and Lelah) in the present day, or with Francis and Viola, the mother and father of these thirteen grown siblings, back in the 1940s when they first began their family. The other siblings are floating around, though, and the glimpses we get of them are vivid and precise. Flournoy captures the logistical details of having a huge family — I have a preposterously huge family myself — perfectly:
“Can we talk about this at the party [at your place] next weekend?”
“What party? There’s not gonna be no parties around here.”
“Tina just left me a voicemail about five minutes ago. Talkin about a party for the spring birthdays next Saturday and does Bobbie eat chocolate.”
“I just talked to everybody else and didn’t nobody mention a party.”
“I don’t know, Cha-Cha. . . . I’ll see you there though. Tell her Bobbie eats chocolate but he can’t have any peanuts. They make his skin act weird.”
Bahahaha it’s so good, I swear I have been a participant in this exact conversation.
Whiskey Jenny and I were just talking about the dynamics between adult siblings, and that more than anything is what I loved about The Turner House. Flournoy has the knack of reminding the reader that encounters between people can look unrecognizably different depending on where you’re standing, and nowhere is that more true than in the resentments, alliances, and mess of a family full of siblings. Towards the end of the book, she says “Humans haunt more houses than ghosts do.” Humans haunt each other more than ghosts do, too.