They could have used several more members – a family clown, for instance; and a genuine black sheep, blacker than Cody; and maybe one of those managerial older sisters who holds a group together by force. As things were, it was Ezra who had to hold them together. He wasn’t doing a very good job. He was too absorbed in the food. Right now he was conferring with the waiter, gesturing toward the soup, which had arrived a touch too cool, he said – though to Jenny it seemed fine. And now Pearl was collecting her purse and sliding back her chair, “Powder room,” she mouthed to Jenny. Ezra would be all the more upset, once he noticed she’d gone. He liked the family in a group, a cluster, and he hated Pearl’s habit of constantly “freshening up” in a restaurant, just as he hated for Cody to smoke his slim cigars between courses. “I wish just once,” he was always saying, “we could get through a meal from start to finish,” and he would say it again as soon as he discovered Pearl was missing. -From Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, page 108-
Anne Tyler weaves together a cast of characters which capture the reader in her wonderful novel: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Pearl Tull, a domineering and stubborn woman who is adept at denial (especially when her husband abandons the family) heads up the Tull family. Tyler begins at Pearl’s deathbed, then rewinds to reveal the intricate relationships and events that span her life.
Cody Tull is the eldest of Pearl’s children – the son who remembers his father the most vividly and is perhaps the most damaged by Beck Tull’s desertion. Jenny, the only daughter, worries about her weight and can’t sustain a relationship with men. And then there is Ezra – the favorite son – gentle, lumbering and looking for family unity – the type of man who cares for others and can’t quite give up on his mother. Even Tyler’s minor characters will touch the reader’s heart – especially Ezra’s friend Josiah Payton:
Mrs. Payton kept refilling his plate. “To look at him,” she said, “you’d never know he eats so much, would you? Skinny as a fence post. I reckon he’s still a growing boy.” She laughed, and Josiah grinned bashfully with his eyes cast down – a skeletal, stooped , hunkering man. Jenny had never thought about the fact that Josiah was somebody’s son, some woman’s greatest treasure. His stubby black lashes were lowered; his prickly head was bent over his plate. He was so certain of being loved, her if no place else. -From Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, page 108-
Tyler’s novel is a character study – and there is no author out there who does character driven novels as well as Tyler. Beautiful, harsh, endearing, absorbing – all describe this wonderful story of the Tull family. As Pearl Tull’s life spirals down, Tyler infuses the characters with hope and gives the reader a deeply satisfying story to remember long after the last page is turned.