Goodreads Rating: ~ 7.5 / 10
My Rating: 9.0 / 10
Anne Tyler’s (1941 – ) Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is a heartbreaking glimpse of a dysfunctional American family. After being abandoned by their husband and father, Pearl Tull and her three children, Cody, Ezra, and Jenny, are faced with the task of overcoming the family’s and each others’ shortcomings. Spanning several decades, the story follows each member of the family as the group slowly separates and communication between them falls apart.
The effectiveness of the family’s portrayal is dramatically magnified by two impressive feats of Tyler. First, she masterfully constructs unique identities for each character. Pearl, Cody, Ezra, and Jenny all have their own individual temperaments and dispositions. Each of them behave exactly as they are characterized to, and the perspective of each is exclusively representative of the character presenting it. Also, the different members of the family see the same events in very different ways which is incredibly indicative of how such occurrences would be perceived in reality. Interestingly, the characters recall events at different points in their lives that others had recalled much earlier which adds the deterioration and distortion of memory to the already particular accounts.
Second, Tyler is able to capture feelings that have built up and developed for years in the characters to be clearly evident in very specific and precise moments. When the family meets for the dinners that the novel is titled after, as well as in several other circumstances, the reader is readily able to grasp how everyone observes and reacts to different provocations. The conflicts that seemingly arise out of nowhere between the Tulls are rooted in longstanding issues between the characters that the reader comes to terms with throughout the novel.
The actual dinners at the Homesick Restaurant become the focal points of the novel, and every instance is memorable. The resentment that builds in each character’s mind becomes manifest when the separated family is sporadically reunited. Tyler does a fantastic job of spacing climactic moments with periods of brooding and recollection, making the novel a series of steady crescendos that do not disappoint when they peak.
“Supposedly, Jenny Tull was going to be a beauty someday, but the people who told her that were so old they might easily be dead by the time that day arrived, and no one her own age saw much promise in her.”
“Their growing up amounted, therefore, to a gradual dimming of the light at her bedroom door, as if they took some radiance with them as they moved away from her.”