Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982)

by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler considers Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant the best of her novels, and many critics agree. The Pen/Faulkner Award winner is a poignant study of a dysfunctional family—Tyler’s oft-repeated theme—over many decades. This novel focuses especially on how the wounds parents inflict on their children as youngsters don’t heal.

Beck Tull, a traveling salesman, decides when children Cody, Ezra, and Jenny are 14, 12, and 9 not to return home because Pearl, his wife, wore him out. Of course abandonment is a major sin against one’s children, but by the end of the book, it’s not so clear that Beck deserves all the blame for their turning out—as Pearl puts it to herself—“off.” The unfolding story, moving between present and past and adroitly told from the multiple perspectives of Pearl, Cody, Ezra, and Jenny, reveals that Pearl was unpredictably ferocious, insular, and unnuturing even as she did her best to keep the family afloat. All three offspring become worldly successes—Cody an efficiency engineer, Ezra a restaurateur, and Jenny a pediatrician. But Cody, the oldest, resents Ezra, their mother’s favorite, and goes so far as to steal Ezra’s fiancee. Ezra is so undemanding, he sacrifices his own interests. Jenny, addled and remote, marries imprudently twice before settling down with a man who has five children.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is less upbeat than many of Tyler’s books, but the tone might be described more as bittersweet than gloomy. Cody finally gets to ask his father why he deserted them. Jenny is in her element with a big brood. And Ezra will continue to have his restaurant and a selfless nature that will melt your heart.


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