Wednesday, February 24, 2016

THE TURNER HOUSE by Angela Flournoy

The Turner family consists of an elderly, ailing mother Viola and her thirteen grown children.  Patriarch Francis is deceased, but the novel has frequent flashbacks to his early move to Detroit, leaving his wife and their first child Cha-Cha behind in Arkansas until he could get settled.  Drifting from job to job during this period and having an affair with his landlady, Francis seems unlikely to father twelve more children with Viola.  The author keeps us in the dark until the very end of the book as to how and when he reunites with Viola.  In the present, Cha-Cha and his youngest sibling Lelah occupy most of the novel.  Cha-Cha is now the defacto patriarch, and he has a dilemma.  The family home is in a rough neighborhood and is worth only a tenth of the balance of the mortgage.  It’s 2008, and the most reasonable solution is to short-sell it, perhaps to someone close to the family.  Lelah, however, unbeknownst to her siblings, is living in the house, having lost her job and her apartment due to her gambling addiction.  She’s quite a pathetic character who feels the call of the roulette table, even while she is living in her car.  When she finally has a supremely lucky day in the casino, I just felt that the positive reinforcement ensured that she would never straighten herself out, and I didn’t like this aspect of the plot.  It’s not that I wanted to punish her with another bad day of losing, but I felt that she wasn’t going to get help until she hit rock-bottom.  Now back to Cha-Cha.  He saw a ghost in his bedroom as a child, and the ghost has reappeared or perhaps been around all along.  No one, including his shrink, believes Cha-Cha or takes him seriously, and he refuses to believe that the ghost is a hallucination.  His growing torment over the ghost becomes an obsession that starts to erode his work life and personal life.  I wasn’t wild about the author’s resolution of this situation, either.  This book has a lot of characters, given that the Turner family is rather large, but most of them are glossed over, and the most mature of the fleshed-out characters is freaking out over a ghost.  I’ll remember this novel mostly for the use of the word “haint.”

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