Book Club Guide—The Turner House, by Angela Flournoy

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How can a novel with a ghost at its center be so real? Angela Flournoy shows us how in a novel I consider one of the best of 2015. The Turner House captures the truth of family dynamics while also telling a story of Detroit, a city that you likely haven’t read much about in fiction. Below are some topics to guide your book club discussion. (Click here for The Snail’s post on The Turner House.)

Ghosts, Haints, and Other Haunts:

What or who is the haint that visits Cha-Cha? Is it real or imagined? Do you think Cha-Cha overcomes his haint in the end?

Why was Cha-Cha’s father also beset by a haint? Are father and son haunted by the same ghosts/issues, or how do their haints differ?

In the novel, we watch as the city of Detroit is gradually becoming a ghost town. What does the novel suggest are the sources of Detroit’s demise? How does the members of the Turner family feel about their home city?

The story of the early days of Viola and Francis Turner’s marriage is interwoven into the present story of the siblings. How do events and choices from Francis’s and Viola’s respective pasts continue to haunt them for the rest of their lives? How do their histories both positively and negatively impact their life together in Detroit?

Brotherly and Sisterly Love:

Which siblings have the strongest relationship with each other? The most troubled?

Do Cha-Cha’s brothers and sisters treat him fairly? How has the role of “Prime Minister” of the family fallen to him? Is it mostly self-imposed, or do his siblings put that responsibility on him?

The novel focuses primarily on Cha-Cha and Lelah, the oldest and youngest members of the Turner family. How much might birth order play a part in the adult lives of these two characters?

“. . . [T]he Turner children rarely discussed the disadvantages of being one of thirteen. Scrutizing too closely why Viola and Francis had not stopped at two, or seven, or even ten children felt like wishing a sibling never born. And yet, each child thought about it, Cha-Cha was sure.” Does the book ultimately suggest that the Turner family’s size is mostly a benefit or a challenge to the thirteen siblings? Why did Viola and Francis have so many children?

Independence and Codependence:

Why does Lelah have such a hard time finding stability? Why can’t she overcome her addiction to gambling? What are the major issues preventing her and her daughter, Brianne, from getting along?

Why does Cha-Cha develop feelings for Alice, and what is the nature of those feelings?

What does Alice’s unusual breach of her therapist/patient relationship with Cha-Cha reveal about her own past and her own issues?

Describe Cha-Cha and Tina’s marriage. What are the strengths of their relationship and the weaknesses?

The Family Home:

In a chapter titled “To Let Go or to Hang On,” the novel says, “Humans haunt houses more than ghosts do. Men and women assign value to brick and mortar, link their identities to mortgages paid on time. . . . We live and die in houses, dream of getting back to houses when we’re gone. Cha-Cha knew his family was no different.” How is the Turners’ home special to the people who grew up in it?

What does the potential loss of the family home mean to the Turner children? Is it any easier to let it go now that it is one of the only houses remaining on Yarrow Street? Is any character okay with giving it up? Who tries hardest to hold on to it, and why?

Both Viola and the family home are gradually approaching the end of life. Consider the parallels between Viola’s situation and that of the house. Which loss is easier for the children to come to terms with?