In this installment of Page 69,
we put Juliette Fay's The Tumbling Turner Sisters to the test
OK, Juliette, set up page 69 for us.
An African American tap dancer, an immigrant couple whose trained pigeons tap out songs on bells, and a four-girl acrobatic team are all crammed into a tight backstage area, waiting to perform. With the ethnic, racial and gender diversity; competition over placement on the bill; and unlikely friendships forming, it’s a snapshot of small time vaudeville.
What is The Tumbling Turner Sisters about?
Unlike the early 20th Century world in which they lived, women, immigrants, and people of color experienced a surprising amount of freedom and upward mobility in vaudeville. There was still plenty of discrimination, but there was an overriding factor that put success uniquely within their grasp: talent. If you could bring the crowds, you were treated well and compensated handsomely, no matter who you were.
Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what The Tumbling Turner Sisters is about? Does it align itself the book’s overall theme?
On page 69, the lineup has just been changed by the theatre manager, an occupation with enormous power over the performers. Talented black tap dancer Tippety Tap Jones is promoted from closer (the last and worst spot on the bill) to the “deuce” or second spot. The job of the closer, or “chaser” as they were often called, was to be bad enough to “chase” the audience out, so the stage hands could ready the theatre for the next performance. Tip’s rise means the pigeons are demoted to closer, and their handlers are furious.
At the same time, Gert Turner, an acrobat and one of the two narrators of the story, is curious about Tip. In 1919, there is no acceptable way for a white woman to befriend a black man, but Gert is headstrong, attractive and used to getting her way. The fact that Tip isn’t thrilled with her attention is a new experience for her.
Tip is no fool—he knows that as innocent as their conversation may be, he’s courting danger simply by talking to Gert. He plays it cool, which only provokes her determination to learn more about him. It’s the beginning of a friendship that grows progressively more complicated over the course of the novel.
THE TUMBLING TURNER SISTERS
Juliette Fay is the award-winning author of three previous novels: The Shortest Way Home, Deep Down True, and Shelter Me. She received a bachelor’s degree from Boston College and a master’s degree from Harvard University. Juliette lives in Massachusetts with her husband and four children. The Tumbling Turner Sisters (Gallery Books/S&S) is her fourth novel.