The 2016 Tournament of Books - Day Four

The 2016 Tournament of Books - Day Four

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy vs. Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil

One of the great things about the tournament, besides introducing me to books I'd never heard of - or have heard of and meant to read but still hadn't gotten around to it - is that in matching up books that are very dissimilar, it forces you to think about what you read and what you like, how your taste changes over time. Also how what's considered experimental changes over time.

Ban en Banlieue is one of those novels that's not really a novel. It's a performance piece that's prose, that sometimes is a series of notes and ideas, settings and idea. It has some beautiful prose, some great ideas. I really would like to see this performed. I was taken with the book, I was consumed while I was reading it, but I was never transported by it. That's the nature of the piece, it's not set up to do that. I am curious what it would be like to read it, see a performance and then return to the text.

The Turner House is a multi-generational novel set in Detroit. It takes place in 2008 over days as siblings are dealing with the titular family house, which is underwater. While mostly set in the present, there are flashbacks to when the family patriarch first came to Detroit from Arkansas during the Great Migration.

I loved this book. One reason is that Flournoy managed to capture a family and its dynamics. Every character - even the minor ones - are unique characters with their own voices. She has sympathy for each of them and they get to tell their stories. This is a book that is nothing but conflict - not exaggerated melodrama like you'd find in a soap opera or a sitcom, but the honest day to day conflict that comes from having different perspectives and ideas and experiences. While the book is constant conflict, there are no villains. That seems about as good a description of family as I can think of.

This is a story that is about what it means to be an African-American family, it's a story about Detroit, but it is something that anyone with siblings or parents will find so much in. It's such a rich and thoughtful story. There is no easy solution to their problems just as there's no easy solution to Detroit. Also, Detroit isn't some hellscape or some gentrifying landscape, but a city, a dynamic, ever-changing, troubled city with people and families and communities. That's rare. (And as one who lives in cities in Connecticut that are considered by many suburbanites to be as poor and violent as's something that some people will think of as small and not even notice, but it is something that I'm sure lots of people notice and appreciate)

I keep thinking about The Turner House since I've finished it, I've given it to people, I've told others to read it, and honestly, it's my favorite to win the Tournament this year. It's a Great American novel and a great American story.

My verdict:  The Turner House

Over at the Tournament:  The Turner House!

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