The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Book Review:
The Turner House

Mar 14, 2016

“There ain’t no haints in Detroit.”

Oh, but there might be. One of these mean spirits is seen by Charles “Cha-Cha” Turner, in Angela Flournoy’s book The Turner House. The blue-lit ghost first appears when young Cha-Cha gets his own room in the new Turner house on Detroit’s East Side.

Years later, Cha-Cha is driving a semi-truck, delivering newly built pick-ups from a Detroit factory. The ghost reappears in his cab. Cha-Cha runs off the road. He then starts to confront what is messing with his life.

The creature haunting him doesn’t come back for a long time — long enough to tell the story of the Turner family’s thirteen children. The generations of the Turner family illustrate 75 years of history in black working-class Detroit.

The Turner elders came to Detroit from Arkansas, part of the 1940s migration, looking for wartime jobs in the North. By hard scrabbling and a little luck, the elder Turners bought themselves their house on the East Side. Until the end of the 1970s, life ran along in a livable way for the Turners. They found work (or the army). They kept their heads above water.

Of the thirteen Turner children in the novel, two are hourly workers, in auto and telephone. Another is a retired teacher. One is an office administrator. Four made careers in the army. Four scrape by, catch-as-catch-can. And one is a cop.

But when the auto companies declare “downsizing,” a lot begins to change for the family and for the city. The auto companies closed most of their Detroit factories and fled from their combative, expensive workforce.

With no jobs, no resources, hemmed in by racist barriers in every direction, Detroit decayed rapidly. The Turner House becomes more and more an island in a sea of derelict buildings, besieged by scrappers. The Turner children find it harder and harder to hang on.

Anyone who has lived in Detroit will recognize how accurately the author describes the familiar places and life experiences of Detroiters.

The many slices of real life, told without despair, and with frequent humor, make this book worth reading.

And about that “haint”? As the novel says, “Humans haunt more houses than ghosts do.”