Pearl Tull never did learn much about love. As she lies dying in her Baltimore home—too stubborn to go to a hospital—she has only her elder son at her bedside. While waiting for her death, Pearl and her children reflect on the past.
Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant follows the Tull family from the time Pearl marries in the 1920s until she is bedridden more than fifty years later. Each chapter reveals the truth as it is perceived by Pearl or by one of her children: Cody, Ezra, and Jenny. The family history is not presented chronologically; instead, incidents are remembered in a more natural manner, and some events are told from more than one perspective. By the end, Tyler has painted a complex, multilayered picture of a troubled family.
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant helps us understand what happens to a family that fails to make close bonds. Lacking nurturing instincts, Pearl was a neglectful and distant parent, often crossing the line into abuse. When Pearl's obsessive-compulsive tendencies drove her husband away, he left in the middle of night without saying good-bye to his kids. Such circumstances often draw siblings together, but not the Tulls. From the outside, Cody (a time-management expert), Ezra (a restaurant owner), and Jenny (a pediatrician) became productive, successful adults. But when you get to know them better, you can see the lingering effects of their upbringing. For example, they have difficult relationships, fear abandonment, and have issues with self-esteem. They long for love and security but don't know how to recognize them. Will they find the keys to happiness by gaining a better understanding of their past?
Although the Tulls are fairly unlikable and the themes are difficult, Tyler doesn't wallow in the negative. The novel is a study in family dynamics and in how problems can be carried through the generations, unless something breaks the cycle.
I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Audible, 13 h, 20 min), read by Suzanne Toren, one of my go-to narrators. Toren was an excellent match for this novel, increasing my enjoyment of the book. My full audio review will be published by AudioFile magazine.
A reading guide is available on the Barnes & Nobel website, where you'll also find more information about Anne Tyler and her work.
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Published by Ballantine, 1996 (originally published 1982)
Source: Review (see review policy)
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