Saturday, July 26, 2014

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

Yes, an older book, written in 1982, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler was one of my
book club's choices for this month.  I had read several of her books in the past, but had not read this one. 

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is a novel about families.  It is a painful story about a very sad family.  It opens with the mother, Pearl, who is eighty-five years old and dying.  Pearl was thinking back to when her husband had walked out on the family thirty-five years earlier, leaving her with three small children.  As the story progresses, it is clear that Pearl had issues...she would go off into rages with the children and be terribly abusive to them.  And as adults, the three children were clearly damaged by their mother's irrational behaviors.

The oldest child, Cody, was a cold, cruel child.  He was especially abusive to his younger brother, Ezra, who was Pearl's favorite child.  Ezra was a too kind, thoughtful child, who never stood up for himself.  Their sister Jenny was the middle child. As adults, Cody remained a cold cruel person.  Jenny became a pediatrician, seemingly always looking for the perfect family to be part of, as she went through marriages.  Ezra ended up owning a restaurant, where he set his mission to serve the food that people were homesick for:

" He'd cook what people felt homesick for-tacos like those from vendor's cars in California, which the Mexican was always pining after; and that wonderful vinegary North Carolina barbecue that Todd Duckett had to have brought by his mother several times a year in cardboard cups.  He would call it the Homesick Restaurant."

Ezra's lifelong goal and dream was to have a meal with his family where everyone stayed and finished the entire meal.  That certainly tells you something about this family!  He was always trying to arrange family meals when everyone could come together, but every meal ended the same. Someone became upset or angry and left before the meal was completed.    

Ms. Tyler's writing is beautiful (as in her other books).  An example:

"'Everything,' his father said, 'comes down to time in the end-to the passing of time, to changing.  Ever thought of that?  Anything that makes you happy or sad, isn't it all based on minutes going by?  Isn't happiness expecting something time is going to bring you?  Isn't sadness wishing time back again?  Even big things-even mourning a death: aren't you really just wishing to have the time back when that person was alive? Or photos-ever notice old photographs?  How wistful they make you feel?  Long-ago people smiling, a child who would be an old lady now, a cat that died, a flowering plant that's long since withered away and the pot itself broken or misplaced...Isn't it just that time for once is stopped that makes you wistful?  If only you could turn it back again, you think.  If only you could change this or that, undo what you have done, if only you could roll the minutes the other way, for once.'"

Great writing.  This wasn't one of my favorite books of Ms. Tyler's, but it was an interesting one, and certainly lent itself to thoughtful and animated discussion for our group.

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