The 2008 housing crisis in the United States had major effects on everyone involved. After reading The Turner House by Angela Flournoy, and The Big Short by Michael Lewis I was able to see and understand two different perspectives on the housing crisis, one being the Turner family and how the housing crisis impacted them, and the other being the bankers and investors involved in causing the crisis. I don’t believe that The Turner House sheds light on what is missing from The Big Short, instead each novel offers a different perspective on the housing crisis. For the purpose of this essay, I will discuss how the housing crisis of 2008 as told through The Turner House and The Big Short is complex and does not follow the classic Freytag Pyramid structure as seen in most novels (refer to next paragraph). Instead, these two novels allow for several ‘mini Freytag Pyramids’ or individual character plot lines throughout the text. Both novels do not display an overarching resolution, similarly to the housing crisis in that there was no true resolution.
The Freytag Pyramid is a plot structure that authors can use to structure narratives with five key components: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. In relation to the housing crisis of 2008 and specifically the narrative told in The Big Short by Michael Lewis, the pyramid can be moved throughout the narrative depending on what the reader thinks of as the ‘climax’. If you think of the housing bubble bursting and crashing as the climax, you may not see a resolution. Not seeing a definite resolution is fitting because the financial crisis did not have a clear and direct resolution, whereas the Freytag Pyramid does have a distinct resolution. On the other hand, if the climax is seen as the bankers, investors, and other financial executives realizing that they messed up, then the resolution is the bubble bursting and the housing market crashing. However, neither perspective offers a clear resolution though economically, the housing market eventually mended. The Big Short does not discuss the economic growth after the crisis, as this is not the point Lewis wanted the reader to understand. The novel ends discussing the broad economic consequences of money as opposed to social consequences as Lewis states, “That was the problem with money: What people did with it had consequences, but they were so remote from the original action that the mind never connected one with the other.” The statement from Lewis demonstrates the importance of having his reader understand the consequences of taking risks as opposed to getting a satisfying resolution which differs from the plot structure used in the Freytag Pyramid.
The Turner House is similar to The Big Short because of their complex plot lines in relation to the classic plot line demonstrated in the Freytag Pyramid. The Turner House discusses the Turner Family and how the crash of the housing market has affected them as individuals, as well as their childhood home which is referred to as ‘the Yarrow house’. In The Turner House the thirteen children of Francis, who is deceased, and Viola, who is ill and elderly, are forced to decide if they should attempt to short sell the Yarrow house, or if not what they should do with it. If the discussion of the decision on the Yarrow house between the Turner siblings is considered to be the rising action, then you will never get a climax or resolution, as no decision is given to the reader as to what the siblings decide to do about the house. The Turner House rather sheds light on the perspective of the family who had to endure tough decisions and hardships during the housing crisis. There are small climax points and resolutions within each character’s personal plot line, as seen with Cha-Cha Turner’s haint, as opposed to one large pyramid through the entire novel. In this way it is similar to The Big Short as Michael Lewis also chooses to tell the story of the housing crisis through individual character plot lines, for example Michael Burry who has a glass eye, and self-diagnoses himself with Asperger’s syndrome. What this says about the housing crisis is that there was no common resolution for all, rather an individual story for each person involved.
Both authors give the perspective of individual people, Lewis in The Big Short gives the perspectives of the individual investors, and Flournoy in The Turner House gives the perspectives of individual siblings in the Turner Family. The individualized perspectives paired with the larger scale ‘sides’ of the housing crisis allow for the reader to further understand the housing crisis and its impact. In The Big Short one of the perspectives Lewis gives is of Michael Burry who left his career in the medical field to become a stock market investor and founder of the hedge fund Scion Capital. Burry had his own personal issues with his glass eye and self diagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome. Lewis discusses in The Big Short that Burry always thought he was different from other people which allowed him to think differently, he later found out that this is a characteristic of Asperger’s Syndrome. Around 2005 Burry predicted the housing market bubble would collapse and was one of the first investors to realize he could profit from buying credit default swaps against vulnerable subprime mortgage bonds. Burry’s resolution is never told by Lewis in The Big Short, as his story ends when he closes down his fund. The resolution for Burry is not clear and concise in the novel just as the resolution to the housing crisis is not clear and concise. Lewis follows the stories of many other investors as they relate to the housing crisis, tying in their personal lives as well. The perspectives of these individual investors allow for the reader to better understand the risks they were taking in their investments which led to the housing market crash.
Flournoy also gives many individualized perspectives in The Turner House, one specifically is Cha-Cha (Charles) Turner who is the oldest of Francis and Viola’s thirteen children. Cha-Cha has his own personal struggles with the haint that he sees as well as infidelity as seen when he attempts to kiss his therapist Alice. As the oldest child in the Turner family the decision on the Yarrow house is up to him due to his mother being sick. As Cha-Cha attempts to deal with his own personal issues he also attempts to involve his siblings in the decision of their childhood home and whether they should short sell it. This adds stress on Cha-Cha and on his marriage. As stated earlier, the reader is never informed of the decision that is made on the Yarrow house which does not give Cha-Cha a clear resolution to his plot line. This common theme is seen during Flournoy’s discussion of the other siblings, and Francis’ perspectives as well, giving the reader many different perspectives as to how the housing market crash affected individual people not only financially but socially as well.
There is importance in understanding how even in a crisis there is not one group of people or individuals to blame. After reading and analyzing The Turner house and The Big Short, it is clear that there were multiple perspectives to the 2008 housing crisis as there are multiple perspectives to any situation. As a human being I believe it is important that we are able to see, hear, and understand perspectives from different groups of people especially for crises such as these so that history does not repeat itself.