28 April 2011

Review: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

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.

Published by Ballantine, 1996 (originally published 1982)
ISBN-13: 9780449911594
YTD: 42
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B-
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Mary 4/28/11, 7:48 AM  

I'm adding this title to my TBR list (or TBListened list). Sounds great!

Beth Hoffman 4/28/11, 8:17 AM  

I've had this book sitting on a shelf for a long time ... I'm talking years. For some reason I just kept passing it up, but your review has intrigued me, so I'll move it to my go-to shelf. Thanks!

Zibilee 4/28/11, 8:18 AM  

I love books that feature dysfunctional families, and have heard very little about this book up until now. It sounds like something that I would really like, so I am adding it to my wish list. Thanks for the enticing review, Beth!

Beth F 4/28/11, 9:06 AM  

Tyler is a master at character studies.

bermudaonion 4/28/11, 9:08 AM  

I'm a fan of Tyler's work, but don't think I've read this one. I don't think I've listened to anything read by Toren either - I'm adding her to my narrators list.

Julie @ Read Handed 4/28/11, 9:49 AM  

Sounds so sad, but I like the title. I would be willing to give this book a chance. Thanks for your review.

Barbara 4/28/11, 10:01 AM  

I've tried Tyler twice but just couldn't get "into" her books. I decided she's an acquired taste that I haven't acquired and quit trying. Too many other authors to read.

Hey, I want to read that! 4/28/11, 10:48 AM  

What an interesting premise, I'm looking forward to reading/listening to this. And I just love the title, I think I would pick it up for the title alone.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) 4/28/11, 11:06 AM  

I seem to collect Anne Tyler novels. I read The Accidental Tourist and I think when we were grown ups. Looks like another good one.

Nan 4/28/11, 12:14 PM  

An excellent review, and though I'm quite fond of a few AT books, I don't want to read this one.

Vivienne 4/28/11, 12:27 PM  

This one just caught my eye as I passed by. I love the sound of it. The title really speaks to me and I like the fact it is set in the 20's. Great review Beth.

Sandy Nawrot 4/28/11, 1:01 PM  

Not to be a Debbie Downer but I'm kind of getting tired of messed up families. Is it just me? These types of books are starting to encroach on my good nature! But. If I were to read it, I would do it on audio I think. It is easier for me to get through the sludge that way.

Julie P. 4/28/11, 1:12 PM  

Strange -- but I can't remember if I read this one or not.

Margot 4/28/11, 3:41 PM  

Good review but I'm on overload with books from the perspective of a dying person. Maybe it's my age. I just read Tinkers a few weeks ago and I'm going to hold off on these for awhile. I'll keep this one on my list for a time when I'm in a better place.

Tea 4/28/11, 3:44 PM  

Wonderful review, your review makes me want to reread the book. I can't remember it. If I had time, I would reread all of her books. Time. Is it possible to buy a gallon of time? Thanks for a great review.

caite 4/28/11, 6:10 PM  

gosh, it has been a long time since I have read anything by Tyler...I should fix that.
so little time...so many books...

Carrie 4/28/11, 8:32 PM  

I love Tyler - really need to read more of her. Great review - maybe a reread on audio!

Rebecca Rasmussen 4/29/11, 1:05 PM  

I love the title of the book -- sometimes that is enough for me. This one goes on the list :)

Tea,  4/29/11, 4:18 PM  

I like the title too. Titles are very important.

Leslie 4/30/11, 9:21 AM  

I can't remember if I read this one or not. Must be getting old! But I don't mind re-listening to books in the audio version. I find I get a different impression of the book that way (which just happened in a review I'm writing now).

Word Lily 4/30/11, 12:14 PM  

I just, today, realized I have this one on my to-read shelf. Says something about the state of the shelf, eh?

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 4/30/11, 10:53 PM  

Have we talked Anne Tyler before? I went thru a phase when I read one of her books, then read EVERYTHING I could get my hands on (don't remember which book started the trend).

Now you've made me want to find this audio so I can enjoy DatHR again!

Robin McCormack 5/2/11, 5:17 PM  

Sounds interesting but really not my cup of tea. I have a hard time reading these type of stories. Just too much for me.

Vasilly 5/3/11, 1:21 AM  

I'm glad that this book has received a high rating from you. It's one of my favorite books ever. It's so interesting to read how these siblings became so different and so distant from each other as they became older.

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