Diane McKinney-Whetstone is the acclaimed author of six novels, the first of which is Tumbling, first published in 1996. The story, which takes place in Philadelphia in the 1940s and 1950s, focuses on Noon, her husband Herbie, and their two adopted children. But their lives are so intertwined with other community members that the novel is really about the entire neighborhood of African-Americans.
There are so many things I like about this novel, from the engaging story lines to the vibrant descriptions to the energetic dialogue, but perhaps my favorite are the distinctive, well-developed characters. Noon, absorbed with her church, her children, and her housekeeping, harbors a deep secret that prevents her from “mixing pleasure” with her husband. Herbie is a light-skinned porter who is devoted to Noon, yet seeks the company of a local singer, Ethel, who assuages her own dark secret by liaisons with a series of men.
Herbie and Noon’s daughters, Fannie and Liz, grow up during the course of this novel. Although the same age, each is distinct in her talents and troubles. Fannie can foretell the future, which is both a blessing and a curse. Liz, a red-headed fashion plate, continues to suffer from a fear of abandonment.
The major conflict of the novel unfolds gradually: developers are seeking to move people away from the neighborhood, ostensibly because they need the land to build a road. Noon’s struggle to keep her community together dovetails with her daughters’ launch into the world of college, work, and love.
Tumbling is a novel rich in detail, insight, and connections forged, broken, and repaired. It cannot be skimmed. It must be savored slowly.
The photo above is from the author’s web site.