The Tumbling Turner Sisters

Written by Juliette Fay
Review by Eileen Charbonneau

It’s 1919 in a small town in western New York State. The Turner family – the frustrated, dissatisfied mother, almost silent father and four diverse daughters – are poor, as in one rent check away from being thrown out on the street. Then their mild-mannered father gets in a bar brawl, is injured, and loses his job. Mother goes into action. She trains, makes costumes, and then puts her daughters on the vaudeville circuit. The Tumbling Turner Sisters (ages 13-19) are born.

Told in trading chapters by the two middle daughters, shy, brainy Winnie and headstrong, passionate Gert, the women (with the oldest war widow daughter’s infant Harry in tow) travel by train from town to town, coming of age among the performers of a dying art form. They glean wit, wisdom, love and heartbreak in the process. On the brink of renown, a hotel fire threatens devastation to both the act and their lives.

Told in the picaresque style, with bon mots from vaudeville performers leading in to each chapter, Juliette Fay’s fun-house turn on Little Women is a tour de force. The vaudeville circuit, its players, audiences, and its theaters come to glorious life through the eyes of the Turner family. By turns hilarious and full of unexpected surfacing depths, The Tumbling Turner Sisters is a class act, indeed. Highly recommended.