Monday, 30 June 2014

Family Dinner

Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982) has been lurking on my to be read pile for more years than I can remember. After seeing it reviewed on ABC’s Book Club program in May I thought it was time to dust it off and finally read it. Now I am sorry I waited so long. This is a beautiful novel of family, sibling rivalry and home. 

Tyler tells the story of the Tull family in Baltimore, Maryland. Matriarch Pearl Tull is dying and reflecting on her life. After her travelling salesman husband leaves her with three small children, Pearl puts on a front, telling everyone he is away on business… for years. She takes a job at the local shop and rears her children alone, without the support of friends or other family. 

Her children recall their childhood very differently from Pearl, and from one another, with their father’s absence and their domineering mother looming large over them. Eldest son Cody is ruled by jealousy and a competitive nature. He is deeply envious of his younger brother Ezra, and cruelly undermines him at every opportunity. Later, he turns his cruelty to his wife and son. 

Only daughter Jenny is academically wise and becomes a doctor where she is nurturing and caring to her patients. Her personal life is a mess of failed relationships and poor parenting, as she tries to distance herself from her family. 

Pearl’s obvious favourite is younger son Ezra. He continually seeks to see the good in people and has been a dutiful son, caring for his mother in her later years. Ezra is the owner of the Homesick restaurant and all he wants is for the family to sit through one full meal together. 

Each member of the family is damaged in some way, broken and exceptionally real. Tyler has magnificently created memorable, complex, flawed individuals, who despite their family ties are virtually strangers to one another. Despite the heart-wrenching story, this is not a depressing novel. There are moments of pure joy, love and outright laughter. And underlying it all is a message of forgiveness and acceptance. No family is perfect, but Tyler has created a beautifully imperfect family in the Tulls.