How can you not want to read a book with a title like The Tumbling Turner Sisters? I fully admit that I was drawn to Juliette Fay’s historical novel simply by its title, alliteration included. The book didn’t disappoint. It was a sweet story from beginning to end.
I know little about vaudeville, and frankly, never really considered it at all. After reading this book, however, I know a bit more and found that I learned about history and how people lived during vaudeville’s heyday via the novel.
The story, which commences in 1919, begins when Mr. Turner gets in a bar fight and loses the use of his hand, and therefore, his job. The family was going to be destitute until Mrs. Turner decides that vaudeville would be the perfect way to bring in income and make her life more interesting to boot. At her urging, her four daughters – three teenagers and her eldest whose husband dies of Spanish flu on his way home from serving in World War I — begin teaching themselves to become acrobats – tumblers, really. Once they have trained themselves sufficiently, they find a manager and begin to tour in the vaudeville circuit, primarily in the New York area.
The story is told in two voices – Gert’s and Winnie’s, two of the teenagers. Gert is independent and restless, happy to be an entertainer. Winnie tumbles because it’s what she must do for the family, but would rather have stayed in high school and then attended college. What I really liked about the author is that even if the reader didn’t know who was narrating by the chapter title, we would be able to tell. The voices are that unique.
The story is sweet and entertaining. Fictional characters mix with real-life characters (such as Archie Leach, who was an acrobat in vaudeville before becoming Cary Grant). Each chapter begins with an actual quote from someone who had begun his or her career in vaudeville. Some of the quotes made me laugh out loud.
The characters are likable and the plot is interesting. Lessons are taught without being preachy. The book was fun and entertaining. I will definitely read more by the author, of whom I had never heard prior to stumbling onto the novel.
It would be a great book club read.