Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
Mass Market Paperback, 310 pages
Berkley Books, 1982
reread - very highly recommended

Synopsis from cover:
Meet the Tull family... Jenny, the daughter; high-spirited and determined. She was nurturing to strangers but distant to those she loved... Cody, the oldest son. He was wild and incorrigible, possessed by the lure of power and money... Ezra, the gentle son. He was his mother's favorite, living out the dream of a perfect family that could never be his own... gathering around the memories of Pearl, their mother, whose final act of life affirms their own.
My thoughts:

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, has always been among my favorite Anne Tyler novels. The novel spans several decades in the life of the Tull family of Baltimore, Maryland. It begins with 85-year-old Pearl Tull, blind and on her deathbed, looking back at her life and that of her three grown children - Cody, Jenny, and Ezra. Told from alternating points of view, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is ultimately about how growing up in an unconventional, dysfunctional family affected the three siblings in very different ways. It can be a heartbreakingly sad story, as the Tulls repeatedly try to accomplish the impossible: complete a family meal together.

Anne Tyler is a truly gifted writer. Her character development and attention to detail is exquisite as she explores complex interpersonal relationships in the Tull family. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant won the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction and was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award and the 1983 Pulitzer Prize. I'm enjoying my rereads of favorite novels. If you haven't read Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, you really should
Very Highly Recommended - reread

While Pearl Tull was dying, a funny thought occurred to her. It twitched her lips and rustled her breath, and she felt her son lean forward from where he kept watch by her bed. "Get..." she told him. "You should have got..."
You should have got an extra mother, was what she meant to say, the way we started extra children after the first child fell so ill. opening

But it wasn't as simple as she had supposed. The second child was Ezra, so sweet and clumsy it could break your heart. She was more endangered than ever. It would have been best to stop at Cody. She still hadn't learned, though. After Ezra came Jenny, the girl - such fun to dress, to fix her hair in different styles. Girls were a luxury, Pearl felt. But she couldn't give Jenny up, either. What she had now was not one loss to fear but three. pg. 2

One Sunday night in 1944, he said he didn't want to stay married. They were sending him to Norfolk, he said; but he thought it best if he went alone. Pearl felt she was sinking in at the center, like someone given a stomach punch. Yet part of her experienced an alert form of interest, as if this were happening in a story. pg. 7

All she wanted was to be allowed to get on with what mattered: calk the windows; weatherstrip the door. With tools she was her true self, capable and strong. pg. 15

Oh, she'd been an angry sort of mother. She'd been continually on edge; she'd felt too burdened, too much alone. After Beck left, she'd been so preoccupied with paying the rent and juggling the budget and keeping those great, clod-footed children in new shoes. It was she who called the doctor at two a.m. when Jenny got appendicitis; it was she who marched downstairs with a baseball bat the night they heard that scary noise. She'd kept the furnace stoked with coal, confronted the neighborhood bully when Ezra got beaten up, hosed the roof during Mrs. Simmon's chimney fire. pg. 18

She wondered if her children blamed her for something. Sitting close at family gatherings (with the spouses and offspring slightly apart, nonmembers forever), they tended to recall only poverty and loneliness - toys she couldn't afford for them, parties where they weren't invited. Cody, in particular, referred continually to Pearl's short temper, displaying it against a background of stunned, childish faces so sad and bewildered that Pearl herself hardly recognized them. Honestly, she thought, wasn't there some statute of limitations here? When was he going to absolve her? He was middle-aged. He had no business holding her responsible any more. pg. 21

"Ezra's going to have him a place where people come just like to a family dinner," Josiah said. "He'll cook them one thing special each day and dish it out on their plates and everything will be solid and wholesome, really homelike." pg. 75

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