What “The Turner House” Tells Us About 2008 That “The Big Short” Doesn’t

The texts The Turner House and The Big Short are both very effective in telling one perspective of the story of the 2008 financial crisis. However, they’re very different in their story-telling styles and the how they shape our view on the crisis. For example, The Big Short is mostly about the economic side of the crisis, explaining how businesses and the stock market works, while The Turner House gives a more humanistic approach to the situation, showing us how it really affected everyday people. Both are beneficial to read on their own, but having the advantage of reading both gives readers a more well-rounded understanding of the crisis and what it meant in different strokes of life.

Firstly, The Turner House sheds light on the personal, real-life experiences of families expelled from their homes during the crisis; a perspective that The Big Short didn’t emphasize. Viola, the mother of thirteen and a widow, faces a myriad of hardships which prevent her from paying the mortgage on the beloved Turner home, which in turn means she must give it up and vacate with her family. Not only does it give us a real-life example of what the crisis did to families, but it also emphasizes the relationships of the family members and the dynamics between each one while at the same time expressing their own narratives as individuals. The children’s father Francis, for example, struggled with addiction. That was part of his own individual story, but it affected the children and his wife Viola in terms of their relationships with one another. It also, of course, affected the characters individually. Everyone in the novel’s interactions with one another shaped their individual identities in one way or another; one action could create a ripple effect. As a young couple, Viola and Francis had moved to Detroit in the 1940’s with their newborn son, Cha-Cha. With intricate details and description, Flournoy illustrates the different stages of life in the Turner home; violence, labor disputes, economic depression, but also fun, loving, and joyous times. 

These details of the story are important because it gives perspective to the parts of the story that The Big Short didn’t cover. The main aim of the book was to help the reader understand the business side of things, giving examples and diagrams of how the financial system works. What it lacked was a humanistic, real-life example of what all of this meant on a small-scale, individual level. Most of the themes discussed were about the system as a whole, and what it meant in terms of numbers. Big figures such as “hundreds of thousands of homes affected” were thrown around, but it was never really dissected as to what that really meant for just one of those homes. One of those individual families whose whole lives revolved around their home being the epicenter of their lives, bringing everyone together and keeping them safe. And when one loses that, when families are expelled from their homes, it can be life-altering and change things from financial instability all the way to shifting familial relationships. One quote that describes this very well to me is when Angela Flourney said:

“Humans haunt more houses than ghosts do. Men and women assign value to brick and mortar, link their identities to mortgages paid on time. On frigid winter nights, young mothers walk their fussy babies from room to room, learning where the rooms catch drafts and where the floorboards creak. In the warm damp of summer, fathers sit on porches, sometimes worried and often tired but comforted by the fact that a roof is up there providing shelter. Children smudge up walls with dirty hand prints, find nooks to hide their particular treasure, or hide themselves if need be. We live and die in houses, dream of getting back to houses, take great care in considering who will inherit the houses when we’re gone.”

To many people, a house is more than just a house. It’s a home, with immense sentimental value to the people who spend most of their lives in it. This is why the story told in The Turner House is so important when learning about the financial crisis; it wasn’t all just about financial instability and losing money.

One term that comes to mind when discussing The Turner House is sonder – the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. When talking about the housing market and foreclosures and expulsion in a broad, general sense, you don’t think about the families individually affected by such things. But the novel gives the reader a sense of sonder that we don’t get from reading the analytical approach of The Big Short. There are a plethora of things included in The Turner House that weren’t expressed in The Big Short, and that’s why it’s so beneficial for people who’re interested in learning about it view it from all angles, really taking time to understand what these large figures and fancy terms meant in an everyday sense.

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