Thursday, August 15, 2013

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, by Anne Tyler

Between the effects of allergies and allergy medicine and a pretty heavy workload, I have been too tired to do much reading lately, but I thought a nice Anne Tyler book would give me a lift. Although the quirky characters that fill Tyler's books often make bad decisions or have bad things happen to them, they generally seem to find a way to rise above their misfortunes. In other words, the books usually end on a mildly happy/unbeat note.

Such is not the case in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Siblings Cody, Ezra, and Jenny Tull are quirky enough. Some might even find their mother Pearl, who raised them on her own when their father abandoned the family (she never openly admitted that he had left, describing him as being away on business), quirky, her more germane characteristic is being a rather awful mother. The three children's "quirks" are essentially responses to being inadequately loved/parented as children, and they are sad rather than entertaining. Even when the children are grown, the family cannot sit through a meal together, despite Ezra's desire to have them break bread together at his restaurant. Cody marries Ezra's fiance but, in spite of business success, can never really be happy; Ezra continues to live with their mother until she dies, struggling to make his eccentric restaurant work; and Jenny, who both marries and repents in haste, rarely eats. It's sad--and the ending provides no meaningful resolution.

It may be that, for me, this is one too many books recently featuring really bad mothers (coincidentally, I am listening to East of Eden, which, if you have forgotten, features a murdering mother who abandons her newborn twins to resume her career as a prostitute). Whatever the case, I didn't find Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant enjoyable or edifying.

Favorite passage:
He was not, in spite of his innocent face, an open sort of person, and rather than speak outright of Jenny's new breakability he kept smiling serenely at some point just beyond her. She took comfort from this. There was already too much openness in the world, she felt--everyone raging and weeping and rejoicing.

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