Although Michael Lewis’ The Big Short is captivating and offers an insightful glimpse into the events leading to the 2008 housing crisis, it falls short by missing the perspective of those affected most by the nefarious actions of the Wall Street elite. In contrast, Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House flips back and forth from the 1940s to 2008 to display how the economic misconduct of the past can affect a family in the long run, and how these depictions of economic disparity in the past can affect the way individuals react to a modern day recession. The Big Short falls flat because, while it briefly touches up on the economic backgrounds of some key characters, unlike The Turner House it does not offer the input of the people who will be most affected by these periods of economic depression – specifically those who are already suffering from inheritance in the form of familial distress.
While The Big Short is only able to focus on the short term repercussions on White Collar Workers due to the time era when it was written, the almost 70 year time difference between the events affecting Francis and the events affecting his descendants years later allow for reflection of circumstances nearly impossible in Lewis’ text. Specifically, Flournoy encompasses the concept of familial inheritance within the Turner family. Throughout the novel, characters are subjected to the inheritance of addiction, silence, and the haint. According to Investopedia, inheritance “refers to the assets that an individual bequeaths to his or her loved ones after he or she passes away. An inheritance may contain cash, investments such as stocks or bonds, and other assets such as jewelry, automobiles, art, antiques, and real estate.” The unhappiness, for example, that Francis experiences in the 1940s, is almost passed on to Cha Cha.
Cha Cha expresses disdain toward the idea of a life that he cannot control that will affect him disproportionately. This is seen when he recalls “what his mother had told him the night before about Francis’s haint. About his father’s private unhappiness. He did not want that inheritance. He could accept a haint visiting him at night but not a life defined by regret” (Flournoy 492). While the events of the book are out of Cha Cha and Francis’ control, the characters in the Big Short are not defined by the actions of others, and do not inherit their circumstances. The outcome of the housing crisis plays out in the way that it does because of their own actions and, although they gamble, ultimately they are the ones playing with their own fate. Another moment when the events in the text are out of the Turner family’s control is when they discuss what would happen if they stopped making payments on their house. According to the text, short selling is when “you stopped making payments on your house, then the bank agreed to sell it for what it was currently worth. You didn’t see a penny of the sale money, but at least you didn’t owe the difference” (Flournoy 62). While the mortgage lenders are willing participants, the Turners have no choice but to find a solution for paying for the house because if they don’t, the bank will get involved and possibly take it away from them. While the Wall Street executives in The Big Short can gain big profits from short selling through willing participation, those who short-sell their own houses as a last endeavor can affect their own credit and ability to get future mortgages.
On the contrary, in The Big Short, none of the characters face any real repercussions during the 2008 stock market crash as a result of betting on the financial future of marginalized groups. Gregg Lippman, for example, inspires Steve Eisman to make bets against the subprime mortgage bond market. Lippman indicates that Americans could not repay their mortgages without the impossibility of their houses rising in value. People like Lippman and Eisman never feel the effects of the housing crisis, and instead profit greatly off of their predictions at the expense of others. While Eisman is against the anti-poor Wall Street attitude, at the end of the day he profits off of these predictions, while ordinary people like the Turners suffer greatly. Lewis himself addresses the disconnection that the characters of the text have with their own actions when he says, “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 the one with the other” (Lewis 251). While Lewis is able to recognize these characteristic flaws and points them out in the text, the book is still lacking because of the lack of sympathetic characters who have experienced the hardships of the 2008 economic crisis firsthand. The people in Lewis’ text are hard to relate to because they are not the ones experiencing economic instability while dealing with inherited familial trauma.
In the text, people like Michael Burry profit off of the bad loans given to working class people when they buy credit default swaps. According to Investopedia, credit default swaps are “a financial derivative or contract that allows an investor to “swap” or offset his or her credit risk with that of another investor.” The text is missing the introspection of a working class family that Flournoy offers. Near the end of The Big Short, the Wall Street investors begin to wonder how normal families will respond to this crisis, and begin to feel guilt for their actions. Steve Eisman, for example, says, “It was like feeding the monster… we fed the monster until it blew up” (Lewis 251). The text fails in that it only shows the perspective of those who have caused the housing crisis, not the victims of it.
Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House and Michael Lewis’ The Big Short take two different approaches to the housing crisis. Lewis’ text, however, falls short by failing to offer the perspective of the working class people who are most affected by the actions, and inactions, of Wall Street investors. While it was interesting to see the perspective of the people behind the housing crisis, Flournoy’s text was far more impactful because it showed the consequences of selfish actions on those who have no control over them. Cha-Cha Turner and his family almost lose their house during the 2008 housing crisis, while the Wall Street investors are able to bet on bad loans and take in great profits. Had Lewis chosen to juxtapose depictions of extreme greed with the experience of those facing homelessness, his text would have had a much more impactful and lasting effect on readers.