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Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant: A Novel (Ballantine Reader's Circle) (original 1982; edition 1996)

by Anne Tyler

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Title:Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant: A Novel (Ballantine Reader's Circle)
Authors:Anne Tyler
Info:Ballantine Books (1996), Edition: First, Paperback, 303 pages
Collections:Your library, Read, owned
Rating:****1/2
Tags:R 13, to Connie 1-13 retd 2-13, to Arlynn 11-13

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Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler (1982)

Recently added byprivate library, JOH-CHRIS, fambrun, Laiane, tennwisc, bmusser, MsFunk, Glire, daniela22, amyem58
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Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
"Dinner at Homesick Restaurant" is the tale of a dysfunctional family. The players include the wicked physically and mentally abusive mother Pearl Tull, an absentee father, and three children - Cody, Jenny, and Ezra - who suffer the scars of growing up in a household fraught with anger, tension, violence, and insecurity.

The opening scene: It’s 1979 and 82 year old Mother Tull is on her death bed. From there the story drops back in time and is told in ten parts, each segment from the point-of-view of different members of the family.

I was surprised to read that this book was on the short list for the Pulitzer Prize. Certainly Anne Tyler has great writing style and wonderful imagination, but the book’s plot is greatly flawed. The story gives the impression of taking place in a time vacuum and even though the author goes out of her way to insert appropriate memorabilia, the atmosphere never evokes the feeling of eras gone by. Segments of the story seem forced… and consequently stretch the bounds of probability.

Pearl Tull is raising the three children alone after being deserted by her husband. She works at the corner grocery store in a middle-class neighborhood scraping by on a meager pay check, feeding the kids cheap canned meat called Spam for dinner. When she has time off, she is exhausted. Never is it mentioned that she spends time setting a good example for her children, teaching her children, or helping her children... in any way. In fact, she is always cranky and abusive - “a dangerous person - hot breathed and full of rage and unpredictable… which of her children had not felt her stinging slap, with the claw-encased pearl in her engagement ring that could bloody a lip in one flick? Jenny had seen her hurl Cody down a flight of stairs. She’d seen Ezra ducking, elbows raised, warding off an attack. She herself, more than once, had been slammed against a wall, been called ‘serpent’, ‘cockroach’, ‘hideous little sniveling guttersnipe.” And, “the tiniest thing could set her off”. Cody remembered her saying, “I’m going to throw you through a window... I’ll look out the window and laugh at your brains splashed all over the pavement.”

The oldest son Cody is a juvenile delinquent. His sister Jenny is an A student. As the children become teen-agers, Pearl expects them to go to college. This might be normal by todays standards but her children were of college age in 1949 through the mid 1950’s. In reality, during those years, 57% of American students did not even finish high-school and only 2% of women went on the finish college. Yet, Pearl Tull’s neglected, traumatized daughter Jenny not only went to college, but went on to become a doctor. And Cody also graduated college. It is never explained how this could have happened especially from a financial standpoint. Welfare was still at a minimum and I’m not even sure scholarships and student loans existed yet. If they did, women from working homes were certainly not encouraged to pursue a career in the 1950s.

Another example of improbability takes place in 1944 when the Tull family lived in a big three story house with several bathrooms and a shower. In reality, practically no-one had a shower in the 1940s - certainly not a working class family living in a rental. This sort of discrepancy continues throughout the novel. In spite of their poor social standing and lack of money, the Tull family seemed to always be on the upper edge of modern conveniences and high tech appliances and gadgets. They never appeared to be a financially struggling or suffering the social stigma of an absentee dad. And then Jenny gets married (on the advice of a fortune teller) and nonchalantly divorces in 1960. I experienced divorce in the late 1960’s and believe me, there was nothing nonchalant about divorce in those days. At that time there was a strong, very palpable stigma attached to divorce… in the religious community, middle class neighborhoods, and throughout conservative corporate and professional America.

Lastly, some events seemed utterly inconceivable - like the fact that two brothers would have maintained a cordial relationship when one of them eloped with the other’s fiancee. And is it really possible that a father that had been missing for 36 years could suddenly turn up for the mother’s funeral and have a friendly casual dinner with his three children?

These are just a few of the details and scenarios that didn’t ring true and it definitely took all the enjoyment out of reading the book. "Dinner at Homesick Restaurant" simply lacked credibility. ( )
  LadyLo | Jul 17, 2014 |
In spite of having read other works by this author, none of which I ever liked, I keep reading her books because they are set in my hometown. In spite of the fact that her portrayal of my hometown Baltimore is often spot on, the characters in her books are always, always, always such down in the dumps, dreary, depressing, discouraging, and miserable human beings that I finish the book and immediately want to burn it.

This one continues the string of misery. It is the story of a woman raising children in the 1950s without the assistance (either physical or financial) of the father of those children. The different attitudes and aptitudes of the three children are sharply drawn, but still depressing. I know there are many who find these well written worthwhile stories. I'm not one of them.

If you're into family tragedy, this one's for you. If you're looking for lighter summer reading this time of year, I'd look elsewhere. ( )
  tututhefirst | Jun 7, 2014 |
Tyler's humor, her sense of place, her eccentric characters, her use of language, and her lyrical descriptions are magnificent. Anne Tyler says that Eudora Welty has been the most influential on her writing and the admiration is mutual, as shown by Welty's comment about this novel: "If I could have written the last sentence in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant I'd have been happy for the rest of my life" (Welty in Salwak, p. 11)

Tolstoy famously wrote that "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." That is certainly true of the Tull family that we meet in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.

"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 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? ... 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."
( )
  FAR2MANYBOOKS | Apr 5, 2014 |
Tyler's humor, her sense of place, her eccentric characters, her use of language, and her lyrical descriptions are magnificent. Anne Tyler says that Eudora Welty has been the most influential on her writing and the admiration is mutual, as shown by Welty's comment about this novel: "If I could have written the last sentence in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant I'd have been happy for the rest of my life" (Welty in Salwak, p. 11)

Tolstoy famously wrote that "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." That is certainly true of the Tull family that we meet in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.

"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 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? ... 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."
( )
  FAR2MANYBOOKS | Apr 5, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
Every other year or so since 1964, loyal readers pick up their new Anne Tyler novel as they would buy a favored brand of sensible shoe. Each of her nine books is solidly constructed from authentic and durable materials. Yet traditional style and comfort do not necessarily mean dullness. Tyler's characters have character: quirks, odd angles of vision, colorful mean streaks and harmonic longings. They usually live in ordinary settings, like Baltimore, the author's current home, and do not seem to have been overly influenced by the 7 o'clock news. An issue in a Tyler novel is likely to mean a new child; a cause, the reason behind a malfunction in an appliance or a marriage.
added by Shortride | editTime, R. Z. Sheppard (Apr 5, 1982)
 

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Leigh-Loohuizen, RiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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While Pearl Tull was dying, a funny thought occurred to her.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0449911594, Paperback)

“Beautiful . . . funny, heart-hammering, wise . . . superb entertainment.”
–The New York Times

“A book that should join those few that every literate person will have to read.”
–The Boston Globe


Pearl Tull is nearing the end of her life but not of her memory. It was a Sunday night in 1944 when her husband left the little row house on Baltimore’s Calvert Street, abandoning Pearl to raise their three children alone: Jenny, high-spirited and determined, nurturing to strangers but distant to those she loves; the older son, Cody, a wild and incorrigible youth possessed by the lure of power and money; and sweet, clumsy Ezra, Pearl’s favorite, who never stops yearning for the perfect family that could never be his own.

Now Pearl and her three grown children have gathered together again–with anger, hope, and a beautiful, harsh, and dazzling story to tell.


“A novelist who knows what a proper story is . . . [Tyler is] not only a good and artful writer, but a wise one as well.”
–Newsweek

“Anne Tyler is surely one of the most satisfying novelists working in America today.”
–Chicago Tribune

“In her ninth novel she has arrived at a new level of power.”
–John Updike, The New Yorker

“Marvelous, astringent, hilarious, [and] strewn with the banana peels of love.”
–Cosmopolitan

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:43:56 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Pearl Tull is nearing the end of her life but not her memory. It was a Sunday night in 1944 when her husband left the little row house on Baltimore's Calvert Street, abandoning Pearl to raise their three children alone: Jenny, high-spirited and determined, nurturing to strangers but distant to those she loves; the oldest son, Cody, a wild and incorrigible youth possessed by the lure of power and money; and sweet and clumsy Ezra, Pearl's favorite, who never stops yearning for the "perfect" family that could never be his own. Now grown, they have gathered together again-with anger, with hope, and with a beautiful, harsh, and dazzling story to tell.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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