The Moved and the Shaken of the 2008 Financial Crisis

Just as King Lear depicts a war started by powerful actors without discussion of the commoners who died or were wounded on the battlefield, The Big Short presents a financial war. The “tug-of-war” between the short sellers of the housing market and the Wall Street banks may not take place on a battlefield, but it still leaves a trail of loss behind it. The narrative Michael Lewis portrays is one that only captures the story of the movers and the shakers of the financial sector while ignoring the broader costs: the loss of jobs, homes, and financial security for ordinary people. Though The Big Short tells a riveting tale of the spiral towards economic recession, by ignoring the perspectives of the everyday Americans moved by events outside their control, it fails to truly capture the fallout of the 2008 market crash. For a book that does capture this multiplicity, one might turn to The Turner House by Angela Flournoy. Not only does this book feature the effects of the crumbling housing market on ordinary people, but it reminds us of the importance of multiplicity of perspectives in storytelling. While The Big Short fails to adequately portray the effects of the housing market crash, The Turner House presents the stories Lewis didn’t tell. Because Flournoy focuses on multiple perspectives, she captures a more complete story.

Although it is impossible to share every perspective in a single story, the importance of a variety of narratives is forgotten in The Big Short. The 2008 financial crisis impacted millions of Americans in a myriad of ways, yet the crash marks the end of the book. When Steve Eisner decides to become a nicer person and Michael Burry steps away from his money management business, their story, as it is told by Michael Lewis, ends. However, their actions—and the actions of the Wall Street banks, issuing fraudulent loans—have long-lasting repercussions, something Steve Eisner acknowledges: “The upper classes of this country raped this country. You fucked people. You built a castle to rip people off.” The stories of the “raped” and the “fucked,” though, are not a part of Lewis’s tale. He does not follow up on the migrant workers the banks “harvested” because of their deceptively high credit scores. He doesn’t talk about all the people tricked into taking subprime loans. And the countless foreclosures and evictions as a result are nowhere to be found.

For a tale like that, one would have to read The Turner House. While Lewis focuses on the monetary cost of the 2008 market crash, Flournoy manages to encompass the human cost. As Lelah is evicted, she “put her hands on the things she owned, [thought] about them, and [decided] against carrying them to her Pontiac.” In this scene, as Lelah must instantaneously disconnect herself from most of her possessions, we see the real effects of Wall Street’s actions. As Lelah leaves, Flournoy writes, “The only way to hold on to some dignity, to maintain the tiniest sense of control, was to leave now.” Here, we see Lelah desperately try to salvage dignity and control along with the photographs and important documents. Along with these losses, the loss of a home also means severing one’s sentimental connection to a place. The Turner siblings must determine what to do with the Yarrow house in the light of the debts their mother owes on it. To get rid of it, however, is heartbreaking, for Viola is sure she will return there. This is the place where Lelah, Cha-Cha, and Troy each flock to when suffering. It is where Francis “allowed himself to hope” for a better future. These losses, among many others, Michael Lewis does not account for in The Big Short

Not only does The Turner House complete the narrative set up in The Big Short, but it encourages readers to think beyond the covers of the novel. From the very onset of the story, Flournoy repeats the motif of multiple perspectives. For example, The Turner House begins by telling the tale of Cha-Cha being snatched out of his bed in the middle of the night by a haint. Although the oldest six of the Turner children all swear by what they saw, their father insists, loudly and authoritatively, “’There ain’t no haints in Detroit.’” Here, we see the beginning of conflicting views on the same event, an idea that will continue as Cha-Cha begins seeing the haint again in his old age. When he inquires of each of his siblings, sequentially, their opinions of the haunting, they counter with a myriad of perspectives. Francey, for example, doubts what she saw; “I remember thinking there was a haint up in your room…. We were young,… so I don’t know.” Lonnie meanwhile stands by what he saw as a child: “I believe you. Why wouldn’t I?” Berniece mounts on Cha-Cha’s tale with a haint story of her own; Quincy and Russell imply Cha-Cha’s gone crazy; Miles, Duke, Sandra, Troy, and Lelah only want to talk about the titular house; and Cha-Cha can’t even speak to Marlene or Netti. Thus, Flournoy demonstrates how a single event resonates differently with each sibling. That idea is reinforced when she reveals the context behind Francis’s dismissal of the haint: he too had seen a haint every night since his mother left, but “[s]tarting his first evening in Detroit, and every night for the rest of his life, Francis saw nothing. Not hide nor hair of the haint that had helped give his life purpose. He spent no small amount of time pondering why…. Either way, his conclusion was the same: there ain’t no haints in Detroit.” 

The idea of multiplicity of perspectives is picked up in each conflict of the narrative: each sibling wants to do something different with the Yarrow house, for example; Lelah has different ideas about what’s best for Brianne than she does; each sibling has a different understanding of their parents and of each other. Even the narration reflects this theme; The Turner House is told in limited third-person style from the perspectives of eight different characters. The limited point of view serves to mirror real life; each character has a perspective on themselves and on each other but never knows what others are thinking. However, by portraying many perspectives, Flournoy opens the readers up to the thoughts of others, drawing our attention to the importance of other narratives beyond our own. Because we see how one can impact others, we see the ripple effect of an action; it expands ever outward in a widening bubble. Even though The Turner House does not engage directly with the housing crisis of 2008 like The Big Short does, its understanding of scale can fill in the gaps left at the end of Micheal Lewis’s book. If one uses images like these as a reference (particularly images like number eleven, nineteen, or twenty-four) and imagines that each house in those images is a house on Yarrow, with a multitude of persons and stories within their walls, The Turner House suddenly becomes the story of the way millions were impacted by the housing crisis. Because Flournoy stresses the importance of multiplicity of perspectives, her novel works to encompass the perspectives of all those moved by more powerful actors. 

Thus, we understand the ways The Turner House succeeds in telling the story of a housing market crash. Because Flournoy draws our attention to a myriad of perspectives, she reminds us to think about the scale in which a single event or a single person can affect many more. Meanwhile, The Big Short only portrays the market crash without presenting the effects for ordinary people. Understanding the contrast between these two books allows us to answer an important question: Why is multiplicity in storytelling important? Not every story can get told, in a novel or in life. But if we keep thinking about the stories that are not on the page but beyond it, we can get closer to understanding others’ perspectives. It allows us to keep in mind those who are moved by our actions, so we can act in a kind, humanitarian way.

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