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Anne Tyler: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

The blurb on my copy says her eight novels… so this must be her ninth. The story starts with the eighty-five year old Pearl Tull on her deathbed. The novel is her reminiscences and story. We get Pearl’s side of the story and then her children tell theirs. She tells of her meeting Beck Tull when she was thirty, marrying him and then moving around, as he was a travelling salesman. This makes it difficult for Pearl and the children to make connections, a common theme in Tyler’s work. Beck eventually departs, leaving Pearl with three children. Pearl pretends to friends and family that he is away on business. She also worries that her children have something against her which, as we learn later, is her often uncontrollable rages.

The remaining chapters tell the stories of the three children. We start with Cody. He is jealous of his brother, Ezra, and even ends up marrying a woman who was engaged to Ezra. He is still jealous so moves away from Baltimore and does not keep in touch much. Jenny, as the youngest and only girl, has a different perspective. When the boys move out she is concerned about being alone with her mother and her mother’s rages. She makes two poor marriages before marrying a man with six children whose wife has left him. Ezra works in a restaurant. When the owner dies and leaves it to him, he renames it the Homesick Restaurant. He tries to provide home-style food. He also tries to have dinners with his family here but they never work out, with someone always rowing. When his fiancée marries Cody, he does not remarry but is the main support for his mother.

The final chapter is Pearl’s funeral. Ezra has invited their father to the funeral and they all go to the Homesick Restaurant for a meal. Of course, it is unpleasant and Beck disappears again. Cody finds him and Beck tells his son why he left. Though the ending is moderately happy, we are left, as is usual with Tyler, with the story of a dysfunctional family, where every member has his or her own problems and never fully understands the problems of the others. It is a bit more serious than some of her other, more light-hearted stories of families. If there is a message, it is perhaps that families are what they are. None is perfect and many are far from perfect but we have to take the rough with the smooth. And you can’t argue with that.

Publishing history

First published 1982 by Knopf