1983 – “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant” by Anne Tyler

I have read a number of books by this author before, notably The Accidental Tourist which I loved and review here. Her books seem to feature families and she explores the relationships within them and especially those that are damaged or dysfunctional. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is about such a family, living in Baltimore.

Pearly is dying and revisiting her life in her thoughts musing on being an abandoned wife and a single mother in a time when both were stigmatising. She has done her best as a mother and she only wishes that her grown up children had had more parental input as children. As the book progresses each of the children has their say when they reflect on their childhoods and their relationships with each other. Each of them has very different views about Pearl’s parenting and about their siblings.

Cody has only bad memories of his childhood and presents Pearl as an abusive mother. He has become a very successful efficiency expert but he is still very jealous of his brother Ezra and behaves very badly to him. Ezra has virtually no ambition and refuses to go to college. He works in the restaurant he eventually owns trying to make a place where people feel at home and trying to create peace in his family. Jenny becomes a doctor but finds her satisfaction in becoming the step mother to a large family of children and being perpetually busy and stressed.

The story tells the reader about the lives of the children and of Pearl as well as switching to the present day where Pearl is dying, ending with her funeral. Regularly Ezra gets the family together for meals at his restaurant but these are never finished because the family fall out with each other and someone always stalks off in a bad mood.

This is a book about what makes family and the ties that bind as well as the events that separate. It also shows us how the same event can be perceived differently by each member of the family and that, maybe, all these interpretations are correct. The characters are not perfect but they each behave the way they do because of how they see things and what has happened to them. It’s entertaining and makes you think with some acute observation and funny moments.

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