When Flournoy visited her grandmother’s house in Detroit in 2009, she was reminded of a wake. Though the house was empty—the family had recently moved Flournoy’s grandmother to the suburbs—it was still being kept in “pristine condition,” especially considering the state of the rest of crime-ridden East Detroit. “At a wake, they have the person laid out really nicely,” Flournoy says. “But for what? Everything is over.” She asked herself, “What is the future of this house?”
The Turner House is a family epic set in Detroit during the spring of 2008, when the 13 Turner family siblings—ranging in age from 40 to 64—are faced with deciding the fate of their ancestral home. Flournoy set out to explore the past not only through the lens of Detroit but also through that of spirituality. Ghosts—or, as they’re referred to in the book, “haints”—are a major motif in The Turner House.
Flournoy began writing the novel in 2010 at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and sent it to agent Ellen Levine in 2012. Levine says she was struck by the “energy and beauty of the prose” and “the vivid way Flournoy portrayed Detroit’s rich past” and current socioeconomic struggles. “As the novel was developing... Detroit was making front-page news, as it still often does. Angela’s novel... [makes] all the headlines come alive in a very real way.”
Jenna Johnson, Flournoy’s editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, says she and Flournoy “had some very fun conversations about ghosts,” and that she expects this element of the story, as well as the novel more generally, will reach “readers from all kinds of families.” Johnson notes, “We all have our personal folklore. I hope readers won’t be able to resist [the Turners] and will, from these pages, see their own neighbors and families more fully and compassionately.”