We will be reading Ann Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, a 1982 novel by Anne Tyler set in Baltimore, Maryland.
The book follows the lives of three siblings: Cody, Ezra, and Jenny, and explores their experiences and recollections of growing up with their mother, Pearl, after the family is deserted by their father, Beck. The novel ends with Pearl's funeral, and a surprise occurrence.
The novel examines how siblings may share the same events yet experience them differently. E.g. Cody remembers his childhood as a harsh time. He blames himself for his father abandoning him and considers himself left to the mercy of an angry mother who favours Ezra. Meanwhile Ezra remembers his childhood fondly and creates a nostalgic family-themed restaurant.
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is Anne Tyler's ninth novel. It was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1983. Anne Tyler considers it her best work.
Pearl Tull is a rigid perfectionist. She has 3 children with her husband, traveling salesman Beck, who abandons the family. After Beck leaves, Pearl struggles to maintain a front as if nothing is wrong. Cody, the oldest, is wild and adventurous, but is envious of his brother Ezra, whom he believes is Pearl's favorite. As they grow up, this plays out in endless pranks. Ezra is passive, and never tries to get back at Cody. He is nurturing and sweet, traits that often interest Cody's girlfriends, furthering Cody's resentment. Ezra goes to work at a restaurant, which he later manages and ultimately inherits, while Cody becomes a wealthy and successful efficiency expert. When Ezra becomes engaged to Ruth, his star cook, Cody becomes obsessed with luring her away, and ultimately succeeds, but his marriage to Ruth is not easy. Ezra never recovers, and remains at home with Pearl; he is a caregiver, both for Pearl and his customers, but this is underlain by sadness.
Jenny is the third child and the most scholarly of the Tulls, but in college, she marries on an impulse with unhappy results. Only in her third marriage to a man with 6 children whose wife has abandoned him does she find stability in family life and in her successful, if harried, career as a pediatrician.
A recurring scene in the novel involves Ezra's unsuccessful attempts to bring the family together for a meal at his "Homesick Restaurant", reflecting his desire to unite and mend the family. At Pearl's funeral, Beck returns to the family for the first time. However, they never seem to be able to get through a single dinner without conflict, this time with Cody facing down his father.