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Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant: A Novel Paperback – August 27, 1996
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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“Beautiful . . . funny, heart-hammering, wise . . . superb entertainment.”—The New York Times
“A book that should join those few that every literate person will have to read.”—The Boston Globe
“A novelist who knows what a proper story is . . . [Tyler is] not only a good and artful writer, but a wise one as well.”—Newsweek
“Anne Tyler is surely one of the most satisfying novelists working in America today.”—Chicago Tribune
“In her ninth novel she has arrived at a new level of power.”—John Updike, The New Yorker
“Marvelous, astringent, hilarious, [and] strewn with the banana peels of love.”—Cosmopolitan
From the Publisher
I first read this book back in 1984, long before I was in the publishing business. I was traveling through Greece with a friend and our hotel had shelves of books that other guests had left behind and were free for the taking.. I picked up Dinner.... knowing absolutely nothing about it. What a wonderful surprise and discovery!. I felt I had never read anything quite like it.The characters were so real, so familiar that I felt I did actually know them. In fact, for weeks after I finished the book, I had dreams about Ezra, one of the characters in the book and the owner of the Homesick Restaurant. In the dreams, he was my brother and he was just as sweet and vulnerable as he was in the book. I never re-read books because I'm usually disappointed the second time around because the sense of newness and discovery is gone. But I did read Dinner.... again and loved it as much, and even found new things I hadn't noticed before. This novel is truly a classic.
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The novel opens with Pearl Tull, the matriarch of a small family lying on her deathbed. We then go back through Pearl's life, marriage, and parenthood. "She'd been a frantic, angry, sometimes terrifying mother; and ... she'd never shown the faintest interest in her community but dwelt in it like a visitor from a superior neighborhood, always wearing her hat when out walking, keeping her doors tightly shut when at home. ... Her life had been very long indeed but never full; stunted was more like it." [p 296].
Buck, Pearl's husband and the kids' dad, left when the kids were little so Pearl, totally ill equipped, was left to handle the kids. I think today we'd diagnose her as bi-polar. When the kids weren't perfect she's scream at them: "'Parasites,'she told them. 'I wish you'd all die, and let me go free. I wish I'd find you dead in your bed.'" [p 54]
The kids dealt with this in their own ways. Cody, the eldest, became a self-made man and had as little to do with the family as possible. Jealous of his brother, Cody stole Ezra's fiancé.
Ezra, stayed in town, living at home. He worked at a restaurant until it became his and he renamed it the Homesick Restaurant. He always tried to have a family meal at the restaurant but they always broke up before the end - sometimes before the beginning.
Jenny threw herself into her studies at medical school and work. Her husband left her as well and she ended up in a different type of relationship.
The ending was strong and not saccharine. Anne Tyler is a great writer who builds clearly defined characters with definite and clear motivations. Her narrative is exceptional; in describing a baby with croup she writes "The baby's breathing was choked and rough, like something pulled through tightly packed gravel." [p 1] This imagery is rich, descriptive, perfect.
I've now read 6 of the 15 Pulitzer prize winners awarded since 2000. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant was a runner up in 1983. Anne Tyler won in 1989 with Breathing Lessons. This is a great source of books to read.
If you are a dedicated fiction reader, you've read this a long time ago; if somehow it has slipped through the cracks, go get it now.
Dinner at The Homesick Restaurant is no exception. A Mother and her family struggling with their various problems. Sibling rivalry, bitterness at abandonment a somewhat dysfunctional family all trying in their own way to make sense of their lives. A wonderful group of characters, so well drawn and utterly believable. It is impossible not to feel some form of empathy with each of them. I really enjoyed this book.
I had read that this novel would be a great study in character development. The author herself calls this her favorite novel. I started reading with great anticipation. After only a few chapters I started to wonder what I'd gotten myself into.
It's not that the writing isn't superb. It is. Pearl Tull has depth and detail as a troubled woman, wife and mother. Her husband simply walks out the door one day and she tells the children he's away on a business trip. Cody, the eldest child takes out his frustrations on Ezra, the middle and most loved child. With her mother as her only role model, Jenny, the only girl, focuses strictly on not following in her mother's footsteps.
My issue with this story is that there is nothing about any of these characters that is likeable. Nothing. They are angry, mean, and spiteful toward each other. I didn't see any of them grow and change over the course of the story in any way. Cody remained jealous throughout. Ezra always believed in the family as a unit even though they were never able to finish an entire meal together at his restaurant. Jenny went through the motions, going through several marriages and never really appearing as having found any happiness. And Pearl. Pearl softened some as she aged. But even in death she never released her hold on lives of her children. The appearance of her husband, Beck, at her funeral did little to resolve years of pain.
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is wonderfully crafted and written. The story and it's characters have great depth, and display a colorful palette of emotions. As reader I just couldn't like them. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant didn't turn out to be an enjoyable experience for me. It may be for you.