The Turner House and The Big Short work well together to give us as a class a holistic view of the 2008 recession. Initially, both novels seem considerably different, especially in the writing styles of each author. Michael Lewis’ novel at times reads like a text book, as more informative than entertaining, while Angela Flournoy focuses on a closer in depth look into the Turner family’s day to day life. However, after finishing both books and thinking back on them, striking similarities jump out to me. Both authors primarily use characters to drive their stories, as well as challenge the common linear narrative we talked about so much in class.
The hedge fund managers, financial analysts, and Wall Street traders in The Big Short when compared to the Turner family don’t appear to have a lot in common. It interests me however that despite the difference in their daily focuses and core values, many are identified as outsiders in some way or another. Lewis places emphasis on character quirks to bring life to Eisman, Lippman, and Burry and to lend an underdog-like quality to the group of protagonists facing the antagonistic monolith of those responsible for and profiting off of the financial crisis of 2008. Michael Burry’s fake eye humanizes him in an ironic way considering his social inabilities, and encouraged the reader throughout the book to root for Burry and the others trying to short the housing market, despite the housing bubble and recession in reality being a situation without protagonists or antagonists, just people. Despite being involved, contributing to, and profiting off of the bubble, we don’t see characters like Eisman or Lippman as bad necessarily, because they are framed as apart from the blame.
The members of the Turner family are frequently trodden on and their ongoing misfortune for me characterized them as representative of those forgotten or left behind. The haint which plagues Cha-Cha and goes all the way back to Francis’ childhood continually looms over the family. The dismissal of the haint as not real reminds me of the ways in which we dismiss alternate perspectives that challenge our world view.
Both books push back against the classic Freytag pyramid which so many of our class discussions revolved around. Linear narrative is stable, comforting, with clear cut beginnings and ends. Lewis will often go back and forth between events, constantly referring back or forward in time, reminding the reader how connected the 2008 crisis was to policies and actions taken years, even decades prior. Flournoy’s technique of jumping between characters and time periods accomplishes the same goal, just instead of focusing on the crisis the emphasis is placed on the characters’ lives. In both books the chapters don’t follow a timeline, but still fit together.
Both books work together as opposing sides of the same coin. I found The Big Short very informative, but the drastic consequences of the recession and housing crisis come across more through statistics. The Turner House grounds those statistics in a story, it makes the misfortune we know will devastate the United States at the end of The Big Short real because instead of looking at everyone, Flournoy dives in deep with the repercussions felt by a single family. Meanwhile The Big Short reminds us as a class that, even though fictional, what the Turner Family went through has happened and continues to happen infinitely.