Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is my first Anne Tyler book. Not sure why I’ve never picked up one of her books before, because she is good. I think I was put off by watching The Accidental Tourist starring William Hurt. The story was terribly sad and I didn’t enjoy it.
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is the story of a very ordinary, unhappy family. The story goes back and forward in time, but starts with Pearl Tull dying as one of her sons sits with her.
Pearl was the mother of three children in 1944 when her husband, a salesman, left her. Somehow Pearl never got around to telling the children that their father wasn’t coming back, assuming that because he travelled so much they wouldn’t notice. Pearl found a job in a grocery store and got on with bringing up the children in their joyless home.
Pearl’s children are wildly different from each other. Cody is an attractive bad boy. Cody is horribly jealous of his younger brother Ezra who is a goody-goody, while their sister Jenny is unsettled and flighty. Pearl is disappointed by all of her children, wanting them to be whatever they are not. Pearl is a perfectionist with a nasty temper, and as adults, the children do not remember their childhood with pleasure.
Each family member has a different view of the events that happened to shape the family. I found it fascinating that what Pearl remembered as the happiest times of her life were when the children were small, but Cody, Ezra and Jennifer have very different memories of particular occasions. This reminded me of a comment one of my sisters once made when she was living overseas and was receiving letters from all of us at home. (Yes, actual letters which had been posted, sent overseas by airmail and delivered into her letterbox. Way back in the olden days…) Anyway, my sister said we all wrote to her with the same news, however everyone had such different outlooks or points to make that each writer could have been describing a completely separate event.
Not much actually happens in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. The characters live ordinary lives, day after day, but the story is so readable and the characters so real that I couldn’t put the book down. The dynamics between Cody and Ezra were particularly interesting, as Cody was so terribly jealous of Ezra that he could barely mention Ezra’s name without saying something mean, and Ezra was so bumbling and eternally hopeful that it was no wonder to me Cody hated him. Maybe an only child wouldn’t find these relationships so fascinating, but I’m sure I’m not alone in recognising some of my worst traits in these characters, particularly those which come out when I am with my siblings.
I hoped that the characters would eventually be able to eat a meal together as a family at Ezra’s restaurant, the Homesick Restaurant, without somebody leaving in a snit, but it wasn’t to be.
I’ll definitely read more Anne Tyler and might even try The Accidental Tourist sometime, although possibly with a box of tissues at hand.