Storytelling

The housing crisis of 2008 had a terrible impact on hundreds of millions of lives all across the world, but especially in the United States. So far we have looked at several texts that all put this catastrophe in greater perspective. One of the texts, The Big Short, primarily focused on Wall Street, the stock market, and a few other major variables which played a part in causing the crisis. Another text we looked at, The Turner House, goes in a different direction and focuses instead on the Turner family along with the struggles and choices presented to them. 

Although both texts have their setting in the housing crisis, it is clear that each provides a completely different perspective. For example, in The Big Short we have Steve Eisman, a man who devoted his entire life’s work to the stock market and, throughout the story, makes multiple large-scale profitable deals with the biggest banks in America including Goldman Sachs and J. P Morgan. Additional significance to this text comes in the many explanations it presents. One example of this is the explanation of a Collateralized Debt Obligation (CDO). The following is an extremely simplified definition of a CDO; a high number of loans, or pieces of a loan, some of which have a high chance to default while others have a low chance, are then bundled together into a single package. Although The Big Short provides in-depth descriptions and analysis on entities and events, such as CDOs and stock market crashes, this ultimately convolutes its ability to tell a story.

The Big Short falls short, pun intended, in respect to storytelling mainly due to the large amount of jargon and complex financial concepts. However I believe the other text, The Turner House, does not make this same mistake. One way we can see this is that The Turner House focuses more on the characters and the intricate details on a character’s life as opposed to an event. Some characters, like Cha Cha, are dealing with the supernatural, while others deal with more secular flaws like a gambling addiction. Regardless, we see several Turner family members, their strength, flaws, and do everything they can in order to save the family home from foreclosure. While both texts focus on the events surrounding the housing crisis, The Turner House provides an easier connection to said events because of the way it tells its story compared to The Big Short.

 Being someone who was very young during the housing crisis, having a text be more relatable makes it easier to understand the setting in which it takes place. This is one reason why the storytelling aspect of a text is important; a text with the ability to clearly communicate the emotions, goals, and struggles of a person within the context of a setting is far more effective overall than a text which is unable to do so. I also believe that extends beyond just a text, that storytelling is a skill that extends beyond literature, in fact we are constantly telling each other stories. Hearing about someone’s day, their struggles or their triumphs, makes it easier to connect with them. This may sound obvious, but it may be one of those things in which it is so obvious that we sometimes forget it.

Shorting and the Risks it Presents

The amount of gears that rotate when dealing with the financial crisis of 2008 is unimaginable.  One of the most important aspects that light has been shed on if the aspect of shorting an asset, or short selling a house.  This is one of the aspects that the Turner family considers in the novel The Turner House by Angela Flournoy when dealing with the housing crisis in 2008 that caused them to lose the thirteen Turner siblings grew up in.  this is one of the aspects of The Big Short did not make clear when addressing.  Michael Burry is one of the key people when thinking about the housing crisis of 2008, he had predicted two years prior that the subprime mortgage bonds that banks were handing out were bound to fail.  This aspect can be seen in respect of the Turner family in the way that they lost their house.  The twelfth of the turner children, Troy, considers short selling the house to his current girlfriend Jillian.  Short selling, according to Investopedia’s online dictionary, is an investment in which one believes will decline and will sell that asset and then proceed to buy it back at a lower price than what it was sold for.  The issue with short selling is that there is an incredible amount of uncertainty in which that value will continue to decrease or raise again.  The Turner House clears up the risk vs reward aspect of short selling in the 2008 housing and financial crisis as The Big Short focuses on bigger aspects of the crisis instead of what was happening to individual families such as the Turners. 

            Short selling any asset is risky business and should only be used by investors or traders who are experienced and pay careful attention to the markets that they are attempting to short sell in.  One of the main problems with short selling is that people may try and predict where the market will go, but the market is unpredictable and can go anywhere any day.  One place where short selling is visible is within The Big Short, Michael Lewis describes how Greg Lippmann had his, “noble army of short sellers betting against the loans” (Lewis 227).  After Michael Burry persuaded Wall Street brokers to allow credit default swaps for mortgages it allowed for the banks to pursue short selling.  A credit default swap is basically insurance on a company, if one believes that a company would default, they would be against them and in return when they would default, they would see a return earning of more than what they had originally gambled when betting on the market.  This allowed Michael Burry to begin shorting mortgages because he was predicating looking at the way the banks set up these unfair mortgages, they were all bound to fail.  Steve Eisman is another former businessman involved in shorting and short selling mortgages during the 2008 housing crisis.  He had predicted that he would make a great sum of money when being able to short the stocks in companies that were giving out subprime mortgages: “The very first day we said ‘There is going to come a time when we’re going to make a fortune shorting this stuff.  It’s going to blow up.  We just don’t know how or when’” (Lewis 24).  Eisman was able to predict the way in which these subprime mortgage companies allowed him to short the stock and sell it just before the company began to fail.  Burry put his money into subprime mortgage lending companies that had not made enough of them to go bankrupt when the market was to come crashing down.  The crash happened and it left families like the Turners in a particular position of having to figure out where they would get enough money to pay for the house that was sold to them when their interest rates shot through the roof.  One of their options, short selling the house in which they grew up.

            Short selling for a family in the position of the Turners is a much different risk than short selling stocks in a company like Michael Burry and Steve Eisman were picking up on.  For the Turners it’s a matter of saving the house that all thirteen kids were raised in at some point in their life; they all have a connection to the house.  Troy, one of the youngest of the Turner children, has taken to the idea of short selling the house to his girlfriend Jillian since she is not connected to his family on paper at all.  They would be able to sell the house to Jillian for a low price and then the Turners would be able to purchase it: “He and his girlfriend Jillian might not have the $40,000 needed to absolve Viola of her debt, but they had enough to buy the house for the price any interested stranger would be expected to pay” (Flournoy 64).  Troy here is thinking about a possible way to save his family’s house.  This issue is that his family does not trust the relationship that him and Jillian have, as a result it would be difficult to convince them to sell it to her.  The uncertainty in this situation is if Troy and Jillian broke up, she would legally have possession of their house.  Troy is so desperate to keep the house he is even willing to undergo fraud to be able to short sell it.  He has a friend David who is able to help him in terms of forging paperwork.  The risk of this is that Troy can potentially lose his job and get put in jail because what he is planning on doing at this point in the story is illegal.  David describes the risk of possibly getting caught by describing what had happened to a colleague he knew who had gotten caught saying, “The feds brought the guy up on fraud charges, and my friend had to testify in in front of a grand jury” (Flournoy 65).  He continues to talk about how his friend was subpoenaed and had to get all of his records for the court.  This is just the beginning of the process Troy would have to undergo if he was to get caught.  The risk of being able to short sell the house for Troy is much different than the risk for Eisman and Burry.  If Troy gets caught it would ruin his life; if Burry and Eisman got caught they’d just be betting against housing mortgages that had the possibility to fail on them, but they knew that it would work out in their favor.

            This defined a generation of house buyers as many of them were set up to fail right from the onset of receiving their mortgages.  This affected everyone in the United States; the market crashed because bankers were signing triple-A loans to people they knew would not be able to pay it back and then made money betting that they would fail.  The lack of regulation made it so none of the main bankers and brokers who were doing this got in trouble.  There was one arrest, and in the end, it was dismissed.  The entirety of the United States population of people who own houses should care about the fact that the 2008 housing crisis happened.  It should now be known to homeowners that subprime mortgages must be read carefully; they may say an interest rate is going to be 7% but if a buyer is not looking for it in the contract after two years it would skyrocket.  The banking industry was filled with sleezy people who were willing to lie to their customers in order to better themselves. 

            The Turner House provides clear look into a struggling family during the 2008 financial crisis.  The view from The Big Short shows the inside wheels that were turning during it and identifies important characters and the roles they played in the crisis.  Michael Burry is an example of this with how he convinced Wall Street brokers to allow credit default swaps on mortgages because he realized what was going to happen with the housing market.  Troy as a character demonstrates the risks people who had invested and received houses were willing to go to attempt to stay in their house.  Troy, like many others, is attempting to cheat a system that already cheated him.  The issue is the risk vs reward of short selling the Turner family house.  This was a position a large majority of people who owned houses in America during this time faced due to the selfishness of the banking and stock market and The Turner House provides a fictional first-hand account of a family that was struggling at the same time The Big Short is in progress.

The Power of Perspective

               Every event that occurs has multiple perspectives, interpretations and stories. Today’s political climate and current health crisis illuminates that for me even more. Take people who think they are invincible against the virus and continue to go about activities as normal, negligent of people in more dire situations who cannot afford that kind of luxury, students in public school who need school for meals and shelter, parents who cannot afford to keep their kids at home, families that can’t afford to hoard up on supplies and are left out to dry after the people who can clear out stores and so much more; and while we have never experienced anything like this, past events that cause mass devastation (in an almost similar fashion) illuminate the need to perspective take. A full picture of as massive and devastating an event as the housing crash of 2008, to me, begs that I look at multiple stories to begin patching together my own interpretation of the events, acknowledging when there are holes in my understandings and admitting that I may not be able to understand each unique and personal perspective. No one person is affected completely the same when it comes to crisis, as was seen then with the housing crash and now with the Corona outbreak. This difference in experience is highlighted when comparing The Big Short by Michael Lewis and The Turner House by Angela Flourney.

               The Big Short is about a more. Corporate perspective on the housing crisis. It follows several characters with high positions on wall street who were able to predict the crash and profit from it because of that. It also is chalk full of financial jargon which turned out to be a rather divisive obstacle for me while reading. Stopping every couple of sentences or paragraphs to look something out and diving into these dizzying rabbit holes of definitions made me realize just how much of finances, mortgages, loans etc. that I just don’t understand. However, to both my comfort and discomfort, Lewis’ writing suggests that not even these high up wall street employees completely understand what or why they do some of the things they do. Lewis’ narrative often seemed cold and informative and less humanizing, which I partially attribute to all the jargon. Even when introducing the death of Steve Eisman’s son, it seems glossed over even though it’s meant to indicate a major shift in his character.

               The Turner House follows a family headed by Viola and Francis Turner and their lives on Yarrow Street and after as their children, now adults, struggle to cope with the housing crisis. This novel gives a totally different perspective on the housing crisis as it illuminates how people at the bottom, as compared to Wall Street big shots in The Big Short, were affected by the crisis. With everyone out of the house on Yarrow Street, and Cha Cha being the executor of Viola’s affairs, they have to decide whether pay off the house which was refinanced for $40,000, or short  sell it to the bank for $4,000 and not see a penny of profit. All the siblings all have different issues of their own as well, such as Cha Cha struggling with his marriage, Lelah struggling with homelessness and a consuming gambling addiction, and various expenses, mortgages and things of their own. The narrative arc of this novel, which is somewhat cyclic in nature in how it follows separate lives of the siblings and Viola and Francis in both the past and present, illuminates just how deeply the housing crisis can effect a family, and how problems began even before the official crash.

               What The Big Short misses in humanizing the crisis, The Turner House accounts for, while also educating in a entirely different way sans a lot of financial jargon. It also shows the disparities caused by race, seeing as the Turner family is black and they live in the South where racial tensions often run higher. I thought the novels discussion of pride, particularly the pride of black people to show that. They are as equal and capable as their white counterparts was particularly interesting, especially in regard to the housing crisis. Francis, for example, was too proud to accept Reverend Tufts letter of recommendation to help him find work and decided to find work on his own, which lead him to a job that did not pay well and caused Viola to work more on her father’s sharecropping land. Another example that I found compelling was when the siblings had their first meeting about what to do with the house and Troy said, “But let some millionaire buy a whole bunch of lots at once…and all of a sudden the city will start cutting deals for them. Pennies on the dollar, I’ll bet you anything.” (pg. 37).  This quote shows a stubbornness to not just keep the house because of sentimental value but to keep it from the corruption of wealthy people buying land for cheap and turning. It for profit, consequently running people from their homes and making it more difficult to get by in a neighborhood that once welcomed them. There’s a degree of racial pride in this too, I believe, because these “millionaires” Troy is referring to are seldom people of color, and they are seldom looking out for the interest of people of color- which proves true in The Big Short. Also, their house on Yarrow Street which is described as being on the East side of town, known for being run down and impoverished, makes their plight to figure out what to do with the house even more difficult.

               While neither The Turner House or The Big Short provide the full picture of the effects and Causes of the 2008 housing crisis, their differing views and perspectives have allowed me to get a better understanding of the situation as a whole. The Big Short also made me question my immediate desire to demonize government and corporations completely and to try to understand some of the decisions a little better before jumping to conclusions.

The Importance of a Narrative

Ever since I was a young girl, I was infatuated with storytelling. I’d beg my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, anyone who I deemed as “old and wise” to tell me a story, a true story. I think the thing that I always searched for in these stories was some type of emotion I didn’t fully understand yet. I would ask my parents, on a smaller scale, how 9/11 impacted them, and at a larger scale, how it impacted their community. This community started at the neighborhood, stretched to their workplaces and dove even further at a nationwide scale. I would ask my grandparents how they individually felt during the Vietnam war and World War 2, and how their community as they knew it changed. I would focus on the emotions in their voice as I asked them to reflect on a really scary time in their lives. A time where they couldn’t see the future and didn’t know how the story would end. I can’t explain it, but there was some part of me as a young girl that was jealous of their experience with pain, loss and uncertainty. I felt as though it gave them depth, caused them to see the world a little differently than my innocent self could. Now, as a young adult, I am beginning to understand the pain they went through, and I regret the jealousy I felt towards them. As a junior in college, I have been asked to undergo an unforeseeable and uncontrollable change due to the global COVID-19 that is traveling faster than the thoughts in my head as I am writing this blog. I am beginning a narrative that I never saw coming, where I was asked to cut my semester short and move back to Long Island with my parents. Where I was asked to leave my friends without a proper goodbye, friends I may never see again. Where I was asked to end my Ultimate Frisbee season before it has even begun, not knowing my last tournament with my team would have been the last. I did not consent to this change. Please excuse my french, but so much shit has hit the fan in the past 4-5 days that I am not really sure if this blog will answer the prompt I was given, but at least my thoughts are on paper (or on your computer screen) and I am connecting with my readers.

Now that my rant (for now) is over, I will attempt to connect what our world is enduring with our class content. In 2008, The United States experienced a housing crisis that asked families to undergo a change that was unforeseeable. Families lost their houses, they were displaced, and lost so much of their lives in the matter of seconds. I was too young to remember what our country went through, what my parents went through, and the pain that they felt. I am now understanding this pain and this uncertainty, and I hope and pray to God that my children and my children’s children never feel this pain. As a class, we were asked to read The Big Short by Michael Lewis and The Turner House by Angela Flournoy. They both tell their reader a narrative of the same story, and I believe that The Turner House sheds light on what was missing from The Big Short. I believe that they work together to fill in the missing puzzle pieces to a narrative that affected so many people’s lives.

After reading my classmate Kaitlyn Papaccio’s blog “Liquidity of Narratives”, she helped me wrap my head around how these two works of literature work together to create a single story. Kaitlyn wrote, “With both narratives working side by side we can see how these narratives are quite similar, despite their scale and it is arguable that without the pairing of these two narratives a well-rounded perspective of the crisis is lost”. I completely agree with Kaitlyn’s statement and will build off of our agreed claim. In class, we agreed that The Big Short was a difficult read due to the lack of prior knowledge on the Housing Crisis and the terminology that went into it. Lewis threw terms at the reader such as “liquidation” and “credit laundering” (pg. 141) that required me to constantly stop reading and start defining. As a class, we compared it to reading a text book that provided the stone cold facts of the 2008 crisis. In fact, I was one of the many that watched the film in order to feel some type of emotional connection. However, I will say that without reading this narrative before reading The Turner House, my personal narrative would be very different. In The Big Short, I was given the cold truth of what went down behind the scenes. We then read a narrative that told us an emotional story of how individuals were affected by the Housing Crisis, and it all seemed to come together. The Turner House makes The Big Short seem more real and more emotional than what Michael Lewis portrays it to be. However, I do think it is important that Lewis wrote a narrative in this textbook style because there is no sugarcoating or dramatizing the events and experiences of those affected. It is important because there is no bias to the words written on the page and Lewis understands that every individual was impacted differently.

After re-reading what I have so far, I see that I am writing backwards as to what the prompt asks, ” Does The Turner House shed light on what was missing from The Big Short‘s story telling? If so, how? If not, how not? So what? Who cares? “. I need to slow down. I think I am saying that The Big Short sheds light on The Turner House, and there is something so interesting about that because it was not intended and it was unforeseeable. I want to say that they shed light on each other and it is not a one way street. We need both a story that is unbiased and gives the facts and a story that tells an emotional rollercoaster of individuals impacted by these events. We need both because as a reader who does not remember the Housing Crisis taking place, I want to know WHY these events happened (through The Big Short) and I need to now HOW these events impacted families (Through The Turner House).

Angela Flournoy’s work makes the events that happen in The Big Short seem more real. She manages to show the reader how families were impacted financially, physically and mentally. In my opinion, The Big Short lacks or downplays the physical and mental components and focuses mainly on the financial aspects that were impacted. In this way, The Turner House sheds a light on the missing puzzle pieces to the narrative. Flournoy talks about really deep things such as addiction and the struggle with sobriety. The 2008 Housing Crisis caused many people to fall into old habits and self sabotaging routines that affected their lives and their families greatly. These two works of literature allow us to create a deeper understanding of a single event that can’t be told by one perspective or point of view.

When I was first learning about the world wars, it was from personal accounts from family members that were filled with emotion and personal perspectives. I then relearned the world wars in grade school and high school. I tried to keep my grandparents stories separate from the text books stories and my teachers stories. I finally realized that that was impossible. Instead of forcing ourselves to separate these narratives, we should combine them to create a story filled with facts and personal events and emotions. Through The Big Short, we have the data and the statistics. Through The Turner House, we have the emotions and the personal accounts. Together, we have a beautiful narrative that includes truth, pain, and uncertainty. Something that our world is going through right now and something that we will once again come out of stronger than ever before.

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.

The Moral Hazards of Storytelling

People may find themselves right now picking up books that they had once not imagined having time for. What makes you pick up a certain book from another is sometimes hard to understand. Once you pick up a book and turn to the first page, one may find themselves hoping that the book will satisfy their desires. Once you sit down with a book, at least for myself, I am haunted by the threat of wasted time through a disappointing reading. I personally find myself guilty of this thinking; yet, it is counterintuitive to the satisfaction gains that I have gotten from reading books in the past. My inability to sit down with a book right now is perplexing. However, this common dilemma speaks to the pressure readers put onto authors, and how authors may change their writings to make more profits through an expanded readership. Take Stephen King’s novel Misery for example, author Paul Sheldon is tormented by one of his most obsessed readers Annie, who tortures Paul to re-write his book to her envisioned end. This fictional and unrealistic example shows the affect books have on readers.

Continue reading “The Moral Hazards of Storytelling”

Liquidity of Narratives

In light of the recent Coronavirus pandemic, we as a society have been forced to look upon the structure of a narrative. Going into this global crisis, we may understand that we are dealing with a historical and global narrative that will be told by historians and future generations. Alongside this narrative, however, we all also have our own individual narratives. I believe that what we are seeing today allows us to better understand the complexities of narratives, their beginnings, and endings and how they work together. Similar to what is going on today, the narratives of those affected during the 2008 crisis also had a greater global complexity playing into the individual narratives, intertwining and flowing like water.  I believe that the readings of both The Turner House by Angela Flournoy and The Big Short by Michael Lewis pair well as both sides of the narratives are covered.  The Turner House offers more insight into the individual narratives of those affected by the 2008 housing crisis which is something that The Big Short struggles with. The individual narratives humanize the crisis, but alongside The Big Short, it also allows us to see how the actions we are so quick to demonize in the world of business, occur on a smaller individual scale. With both narratives working side by side we can see how these narratives are quite similar, despite their scale and it is arguable that without the pairing of these two narratives a well-rounded perspective of the crisis is lost.

The Big Short by Michael Lewis offers readers the narratives of Wall Street’s head honchos and insight into what led to the 2008 economic crash, offering a perspective to a narrative many of us don’t usually have access to. Although the reader is offered insight into the perspectives of those who were at the frontline of the events leading up to the crisis, much of the narrative can also feel distant to the reader still. This is created by the way the book is written. As discussed in class, Michael Lewis’ book mirrors the way a novel would read, but also reads like a textbook. This is where the narrative gets tricky and confusing, pushing the reader further away from the global narrative of the crisis as the reader may find themselves caught up in the financial terms. Although this may push readers further from understanding the global narrative, it actually allows the reader to connect to the narrative as it becomes clear that those in the business world don’t even understand it themselves. As Eisman states at one point, “I didn’t know what the fuck was in the things…No one knew what in them…it was all the pieces of shit we’d already shorted wrapped up together, into a portfolio” (Lewis 116). Once the reader comes to terms with this fact, the line separating the global narrative from the individual narrative becomes blurred allowing for more insight into the actions of those at the frontline. However, once inside the global narrative,  we begin to demonize the actions of those at the forefront.

The attraction towards risk and moral hazard is something readers of The Big Short are so quickly to criminalize in the global narrative. In The Big Short, the attraction towards risk comes to the forefront of the narrative as those interpreting the narrative begin to question the morale associated with the risk. As Eisman put it, “‘It made me feel good that there was such inefficiency to this market….I saw how sausage was made in the economy and it was really freaky” (Lewis 16). We can equate these business actions to moral hazard as a moral hazard is defined as a lack of incentive to guard against risk where one is protected from consequence. This is exactly what the big businesses were doing in the selling and buying of CDOs. We are therefore so quick to demonize these actions and equate these risks to moral hazard which led to the stock market crash of 2008. This comes largely as a result of knowing the forthcoming of the individual narrative, as a consequence of the global narrative; however, The Turner House allows us to see the correlation between these narratives, not that one caused the other, but that the individual narrative is much more similar to the global narrative. 

 Flournoy’s novel essentially liquifies the narrative of The Big Short by humanizing the actions of those of Wall Street into her character’s similar addictions to mirror the actions of those at the forefront of the economic crisis. Through the characterization of Lelah, the demonization of risk and moral hazard comes to a more personable level as Lelah attempts to overcome her gambling problem. The addiction Lelah feels to her gambling problem, therefore mimicking the addiction of those selling CDOs as, “It was about knowing what to do intuitively, and thinking about one thing only, the possibility of winning, the possibility of walking away the victor, finally” (Flournoy 49). The risk that we see Lelah so attracted to is similar to the risk of those involved in the negotiations leading to the crash. Just as Lelah can’t see the coin’s monetary value and the money she is losing, on a larger scale those in big business do not understand the lives they are messing with. Despite it being on a drastically larger scale, the readers can connect the thrill of risk to humanize the people we were so quick to demonize in the first narrative.  The reader also sees how the impact of Lelah’s gambling life plays into her relationships, as her daughter disowns her, her love life failing, and she loses her home. All these results, therefore, mirror possible realities for those affected during the crisis. The narrative offered in The Turner House, therefore, allows the reader insight into some of the individual narratives of the 2008 crisis, but also allows connection on a much larger scale, thus allowing the stories to flow together and pair well. 

Although the narrative of The Turner House sheds light upon personal and individual narratives of the 2008 crisis, there is much more to be understood when The Big Short is paired with it. Just like anything, there are two sides to every story, just as there are two narratives when it comes to global events. The first narrative is the one that we all see as a society which is seen in The Big Short, but there is also an individual narrative that each person faces which is seen in The Turner House. When we focus on the individual narratives, however, we can see the fluidity and connections between the greater global narrative and the individual narrative itself. This is the connection that can, therefore, be made between the narratives of The Big Short and The Turner House, humanizing the global narrative by the individual. In connection with the recent pandemic, we may want to apply this concept as we see how the coronavirus rewrites our current narrative globally but also impacts us closely. By examing them both, however, we can see how these narratives work hand in hand and through both narratives, we can trace the beginnings of the pandemic and also plan to have the two narratives flow together for an end. 

How The Big Short and The Turner House Work Together

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.

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More to The Story: Seeing the Whole Picture of the 2008 Housing Crisis with The Turner House and The Big Short

Both Michael Lewis’s The Big Short and Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House shed light on the 2008 housing crisis. Yet, comparing these two works right off the bat proved to be a rather difficult task as the perspective of each is incredibly different from the other. Similar in their narrative style of story-telling, these two look at the housing crisis of 2008 from two very different points of view. One from the perspective of wealthy offices of Wall Street (The Big Short) and the other from a house on Yarrow Street that has been the home to thirteen children, their parents, and all of their stories. 

The first time I came into contact with The Big Short, I was 18 years old and just a month out from graduating high school, and we watched the movie version as something to do after the AP Exam in my AP Macroeconomics class. I can remember thinking it was so dense, and how it “wasn’t relevant to me” and how “2008 was like ten years ago”. I didn’t pay much attention to it. About two years later, and the book that inspired that film appears on my required reading list. About two years later, and I started to see that it was relevant to me. The personal relevance started to hit me more after reading The Turner House, but nonetheless The Big Short started to make more sense. In class we looked at pictures of “Human Landscapes” in Florida and then discussed how those photos helped increase our understanding of The Big Short. All the communities were made of streets that twist and turn and look very complex upon first glance. However, all of the streets connect and make the neighborhood whole, just like all of the character’s narratives in Michael Lewis’s The Big Short. It was, and in a sense, still is kind of dense to me with its perspective coming from a very economic world that I am not really immersed in, with many of its words and phrases being outside of my vocabulary. After picking up the “missing pieces” from the stories told in The Turner House, it all started to make a little bit more sense. 

The Turner House provides the humanistic approach to the 2008 housing crisis that The Big Short lacked. It sheds light on how this time of economic crisis affected real working-class people and their families. It travels through time and follows thirteen siblings of the Turner family, as well as their parents, Viola and Francis. The story switches perspectives from the 1940’s, and the time of Viola and Francis, who just moved to Detroit with their first-born  son, Cha-Cha, to Detroit in the 2000’s, where the Turner siblings must decide the worth of their family home as it falls victim to the financial crisis going on in the United States. Flournoy uses stories and intricate details of the Turner family through flashbacks and shifts of time in the narrative that help to create this humanistic perspective that The Big Short was missing.

Not only does it shed light on the economic hardships faced by the Turner family, but interpersonal struggles within their relationships with each other are shown as well. We specifically see the character’s interpersonal struggles through Francis’s addiction. Francis’s addiction is a personal battle of his own, but it affects his wife, Viola, and his children. Each person, like Francis, has their own story. That’s real life, that’s how people are. All of the stories and struggles are connected through a specific place, The Turner House on Yarrow Street, making it into more than just a house, but a home. 

The Big Short taught me a lot about the 2008 economic crisis. In my reading of The Big Short I stumbled across lots of economic terms, and it taught me a lot about money and economic hardship. It wasn’t until reading The Turner House, that I started to understand the 2008 housing crisis on a personal level. There’s more to an economic crisis than fraudulent stock brokers and bankers. A lot more. There’s home-owners, there are families, who have to come face-to-face with incredibly difficult decisions- like putting a dollar amount on a place that holds over 50 years of memories.  As someone who comes from a working-class family, who no longer has their childhood home due to financial issues, it hit home for me and finally made some sort of sense. There is so much more to a house than its dollar value.

A House Doomed to Fall

In The Big Short, Michael Lewis provides an investigative approach to explaining the involvement of those in Wall Street and the implications of fraudulent behavior that caused the 2008 financial crisis. The story leaves off with an uncertainty as to how everyday people would be affected by the crisis. The Turner House gives a much deeper insight into the lives of a family that were personally touched by the crisis. Having a background knowledge of the members involved, financial concepts such as home mortgages, defaulting, and short selling made understanding The Turner House much smoother of a transition. From understanding the incentives that caused major players to profit off the housing bubble to the story of a family who were expelled from their home as a result of the actions from those who benefited off loss. After the implosion of the bubble, we realized just how big the crash was. It was the cause of many bankers’ decisions and a lack of concern for the lower and middle class. The Turner House shines a light on how the crisis affected the lives of everyday people that The Big Short does not. 

Angela Flourney’s The Turner House follows how the financial crisis parallels multiple ongoing personal crises in each individual’s life. The diminishing status of Detroit during the time of the financial crisis is evident throughout the novel. Viola and Francis moved into Yarrow Street in a booming suburb, celebrating the start of a family. At the time of the crisis, those dreams were crushed. Violet owed forty thousand despite the house being valued at only four thousand dollars. The actions of corruption and greed are clear even to the family as they talk about short-selling the house. Netti says “We sell it today and in ten years Donald Trump or somebody will buy it, build a townhouse, and sell it to some white folks for two hundred grand..” They want nothing but to keep the home that they have grown up. While reading The Big Short, it was clear that the cause and effects of the financial crisis were disastrous. After reading The Turner House, we are left with nothing but sympathy and anger for those who have been on the other end of the corruption. 

As someone from New York City, you can still see unrest between the “everyday people” and those who work in finance. Occupy Wall Street is a movement that started on September 17, 2011. I went to high school in the financial district and was able to witness the yearly protest against economic inequality. There was and always will be a power dynamic that is shifted towards those on top. It is of most importance to hold members of the upper class accountable and share a conversation about social/economic inequality.