Book Review: The Turner House

Blog page


Sigh, alas, here we find ourselves with another highly anticipated read that was featured on our 2015 reading wish list, that didn’t measure up to its expectation. :-( I seem to have fallen deep into a reading slump tunnel lately, haven’t I?

The Turner House, had once again, many of the hallmarks usually guaranteeing “a great read” for this Hoarder. But, like The Children’s Crusade, this one fell flat as well. The Children’s Crusade ranks slightly higher however, with its 3 stars over The Turner House, with it’s 2.5 stars. The Turner House, for me, became a highly disjointed, meandering, wandering and overall messy read.

Inside the Turner House located on Yarrow Street in Detroit’s East Side are 13 children, born and raised by Francis and Viola Turner. The Turner House  was the one to house the full 13 and survived everything in Detroit’s rocky and anxious history it has thrown at it. With Francis Turner passed and Viola infirmed and elderly living in the Turner’s eldest son, (Charles) Cha-Cha’s house, the siblings must come together to determine what to do with the house on Yarrow Street. Unfortunately, at this time for Detroit’s East Side, they can only expect a mere $4,000 from a short-sale for their beloved family home.

We do not hear from each of the 13 siblings, that would make for an even more unruly read, instead we hear mainly from the eldest, Cha Cha and the youngest, Lelah throughout most of the book.

While each sibling may have a different narrative concerning their upbringing or experience, and what their particular childhood was like in terms of their place and role in that great number, Cha Cha is the one that seems to struggle the most with his childhood. This may be all due to the reappearance of a “haint” while driving his truck for Chrysler. In the earliest days in the Turner House, Cha Cha fought with a haint, even though his father told him explicity there were no haints in Detroit. With the reappearance of this “haint” and the accident caused by this vision, Cha Cha is now appointed to attend therapy from a work-appointed therapist. Because of the questions his therapist, Alice poses, Cha Cha begins to re-evaluate his childhood and his place and role in the Turner household.

Then, there is Lelah, the youngest of the brood. She is plagued by a gambling habit and persistent homelessness. She seeks refuge in the now emptied Turner house and her story is all about her gambling and her only daughter and grandson. There isn’t a lot of interaction between Cha Cha and Lelah, or really much interaction between Lelah and the other siblings. Her story seems to operate quite separately from the rest and her woes of homelessness and gambling are oft and wearily repeated.

At the heart of the story, or the attempt I believed, or ascertained, to want to be centred at the heart of the story, is this house on Yarrow Street and the role of the matriarch Viola. However, Viola’s story doesn’t come across strongly or often at all. The patriarch, Francis’ parts occur in 1944 when he first left the South to establish a life in Detroit for his family. He comes alone at first to Detroit before calling Viola to move with him and begin their large family. Francis’ story is filled with his unhappiness and the memories of Francis according to his eldest son, are filled with those of an alcoholic or not often present part of the kids’ lives. See…all of these parts, and this part in particular, are too under developed or seemingly unrealized, they really are simply not tied well enough to the overall story.

I think it’s just that The Turner House contained too many elements that were not fully realized and this occurs in too many places throughout the story. None of the differing threads or stories seem to tie together cohesively at all and it just comes across as one big meandering, wandering story trying to centre them to the house on Yarrow Street. Cha Cha’s, Lelah’s and the patriarch Francis’ stories all occur as though completely unrelated to each other and the additional threads of haints, a house and the matriarch Viola do not tie in with the other components of their stories. There is a great deal of repetition throughout as well.

I’m certain I’m not sharing the elements of this story well enough with you, but what I can share is my disappointment in it. It turned out to be a rather boring read, really, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the many mentions of Detroit and its surrounding suburbs, and even a mention of Windsor, it did not come together as a well thought out or organized story. For me. In my opinion. 2.5 stars = meh, take it or leave it. I’m leaving it. Sadly.

Literary Hoarders Penny rev