Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
Dinner at the Homesick RestaurantAnne Tyler
For Further Study
Critics generally consider Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Anne Tyler's ninth novel, to be among her best work. It won the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction and was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award and the 1983 Pulitzer Prize. Also a commercial success, it has to date sold more than 60,000 copies in hardcover and more than 655,000 in paperback. Published in 1982, the medium-length fiction spans several decades in the history of the Tull family of Baltimore, Maryland. Often compared to William Faulkner's novel As I Lay Dying, the narrative begins with 85-year-old Pearl Tull, blind and on her deathbed, attempting to reconcile with her role as a deserted wife and single parent. Will her three grown children— Cody, Jenny, and Ezra—forgive her for sometimes being a physically and verbally abusive mother? Told from alternating points of view, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is ultimately about how growing up in an unconventional, turbulent family affected three children in very different ways.
Although many critics considered the novel less optimistic than her other work, it drew much praise for its psychological insight, rich characterization, well-developed plot structure, and impressive handling of multiple points of view. Like many of her other novels—including Earthly Possessions, Searching for Caleb, and The Accidental Tourist—Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is about the burden of a person's past, be it personal, familial, or historical.
Anne Tyler was born on October 25, 1941, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to chemist Lloyd Parry Tyler and social worker Phyllis Mahon Tyler. The daughter of Quakers, hers was a somewhat nomadic childhood, living in such places as Chicago; Duluth, Minnesota; and Cleo, North Carolina (in which her family lived in an experimental collective community in the mountains). When Anne was eleven, her family settled in Raleigh, North Carolina. Adapting to this relatively cosmopolitan environment did not come easily, since up until that time, the young girl was unfamiliar with such conveniences as the telephone. Tyler ultimately adjusted, sometimes doing field work on tobacco plantations and observing the quirks and dialects of her coworkers. In high school, she planned to become a book illustrator. Phyllis Peacock, one of her English teachers, also instructed Reynolds Price, who became a successful novelist and a friend of Tyler's.
Attending Duke University on full scholarship, Tyler took a writing course taught by Reynolds Price and majored in Russian. In 1961, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. and briefly pursued graduate work at Columbia University. From 1962 to 1963, Tyler worked as a Russian bibliographer at Duke University; in May, 1963, she married the Iranian medical student and novelist Taghi Mohammed Modaressi. While her husband completed his residency at McGill University in Montreal, Tyler took a job as the assistant to the librarian of McGill's Law Library.
In Montreal, Tyler wrote her first two novels, If Morning Ever Comes (1964) and The Tin Can Tree (1965), neither of which received much critical attention. However, the critics who took notice praised the author's maturity and anticipated her future success. By the time Tyler had published her fifth novel, Celestial Navigation (1974), critics such as Gail Godwin and John Updike agreed she was a literary force to be reckoned with. With the publication of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982), her place as one of the best and most significant American novelists of her generation seemed secure. In addition to several novels, more than fifty of Anne Tyler's short stories have been published to date.
Along the way, Tyler has received countless literary awards, including the Mademoiselle award for writing (1966); Award for Literature, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, (1977); Janet Heidinger Kafka prize (1981), PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction (1983), and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1989). With the latter award and the 1990 motion picture The Accidental Tourist—based on Tyler's novel of the same name—some of the writer's popularity has spread into the American mainstream.
While not an easy author to categorize, Tyler has often been described as a Southern writer, setting her early novels in the South, and is frequently compared to William Faulkner and Eudora Welty. In spite of her great productivity, she remains something of an enigma: an extremely private person who grants few interviews and shuns most public appearances.
Part I: Pearl
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is the story of the Tull family of Baltimore, Maryland, told first from the perspective of Pearl Tull, and then from the perspective of each of her children, Cody, Ezra, and Jennifer. Because the novel is told from differing points of view, readers often witness the same event several times, with different emphasis.
Chapter One, "Something You Should Know," opens as Pearl Tull lies dying in her Baltimore home. Her son Ezra sits next to her. She recalls her life, not in chronological order, but in the way memory works, one memory sparking the next. She begins by recalling how she had almost lost her oldest son Cody as a baby and that near loss was the catalyst for her having more children. From this memory, she moves farther back in time and recollects meeting and marrying Beck Tull, a traveling salesman. Pearl was thirty at the time, nearing spinsterhood. Her marriage did not turn out as she had planned. Beck moved the family from place to place and neither Pearl nor her children were able to form connections with other people. Finally, Beck tells Pearl that he does not want to be married any longer, and he leaves the family, now settled in Baltimore. Pearl finds herself a single mother with children aged fourteen, eleven, and nine. In order to keep up the appearance of a normal marriage, Pearl lies to her children, family, and friends, saying Beck is away on business. Pearl recalls a time when the family was together in the country and Beck was teaching Cody how to use his new bow and arrow. Cody accidentally shoots his mother in shoulder. The wound festers; when Pearl has it treated, she nearly dies from an allergy to penicillin.
Amidst the memories of her younger days and of her children's childhoods, Pearl surfaces into the present periodically. At these times, she thinks about her own impending death, her funeral (and how surprised Beck will be when he is invited), and her adult children. She wonders if her children blame her for something and she thinks that there must be something wrong with each of her children. As the chapter closes, Pearl drifts off. Whether she drifts to sleep, or to death, we cannot tell at this moment.
Part II: The Family
Each of the next chapters of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is a self-contained unit, told from the point of view of one of the children. Taken together, they allow the reader to follow each of the children through adulthood. Cody's story opens before his father has left, on the day that Cody accidently shoots his mother with an arrow when Ezra interferes with his aim. From here the competition Cody feels with Ezra grows. Over the years, Cody engages in an unending series of sneaky tricks to get Ezra in trouble. Ezra remains largely unconscious of the practical jokes played on him by his brother. Nevertheless, when Pearl goes on one of her periodic "rampages," it is Cody who attempts to protect the younger children from Pearl's violence.
As an adult, Cody continues to feel jealousy toward Ezra. Eventually, he meets, woos, and marries Ruth Spivey, the woman engaged to Ezra. Even after marrying Ruth, Cody is jealous of Ezra and so he moves Ruth and their son Luke away from Baltimore, rarely writing and even more rarely visiting.
Jenny's story begins at the time when she is about to find herself as the only child at home. Cody is off to college, and Ezra has been drafted. She is uneasy; although her mother seems to treat her more kindly now, Jenny still fears her mother's abuse.
Jenny eventually leaves home for college. While there, she meets Harley Baines, a genius geneticist. They marry just as Jenny begins medical school. The marriage soon fails and Jenny finds herself back in Baltimore. Jenny remarries an artist who leaves her several months before their daughter Becky is born. Finally, Jenny, now a pediatrician, marries a man with six children whose wife has abandoned him.
Ezra's story centers around his work at Scarlatti's Restaurant. When Mrs. Scarlatti dies, she leaves the restaurant to Ezra, who renames it The Homesick Restaurant. Here he prepares the kind of food that people are homesick for, the kind of food that they had at home. Ezra always tries to arrange dinners for his family at the restaurant; however, someone in the family always ruins his best plans by exploding with anger and walking out.
After losing his fiancee to his brother Cody, Ezra never marries and becomes the chief caretaker for his mother, Pearl, whose eyesight and health are failing. Often, Ezra reads his mother's diary entries and describes old photographs to Pearl, who seems to be searching for something. Pearl finally seems to be satisfied when Ezra reads her a particular diary entry:
"Early this morning … I went out behind the house to weed. Was kneeling in the dirt by the stable with my pinafore a mess and the perspiration rolling down my back, wiped my face on my sleeve, reached for the trowel and all at once thought, Why, I believe that at just this moment I am absolutely happy."
His mother stopped rocking and grew very still.
"The Bedloe girls' piano scales were floating out her window," he read, "and a bottle fly was buzzing in the grass, and I saw that I was kneeling on such a beautiful green little planet. I don't care what else might come about. I have had this moment. It belongs to me."
That was the end of the entry. He fell silent.
"Thank you, Ezra," his mother said. "There's no need to read anymore."
Part III: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
The concluding chapter of the book opens with the news of Pearl's death, told from Cody's point of view. All the members of Pearl's family gather for her funeral, and Cody discovers that Ezra has invited their father to attend. After the funeral ends, an old man approaches Cody, who suddenly recognizes him as their father. All of the Tulls, including the long-absent Beck, head to The Homesick Restaurant for the funeral dinner. This time it is Cody who loses his temper. "You think we're a family," Cody says to his father. "You think we're some jolly, situation-comedy family when we're in particles, torn apart, torn all over the place, and our mother was a witch." Beck disappears when everyone's attention is suddenly drawn to Jenny's husband's baby, who is choking. After Jenny saves the baby, they realize Beck is gone. All but Cody rush out into the street to try to find Beck. Ironically, it is Cody who finds his father when he finally goes to look. In the moments they spend together before the rest of the family finds them, Beck tells Cody the story of his marriage and why he left them. As Cody looks down the street, he sees the members of his family rushing toward him. He finds himself "surprised and touched. He felt that they were pulling him toward them—that it wasn't they who were traveling, but Cody himself." For the first time, Cody is drawn to his family; the book closes with his memory of his mother and with his memory of the archery trip.
Harley is the first of Jenny Tull's three husbands. Intellectual Harley shares at least one similarity with his mother-in-law, Pearl: They are both obsessively organized. For example, Harley arranges his textbooks "by height and blocks of color." A minor, comical character.
Unable to properly handle the pressures of medical school, Jenny vents her frustrations by physically and emotionally abusing her only biological child, Becky. Fortunately, Jenny realizes the damage she is inflicting and enlists the aid of Pearl to temporarily care for her young daughter. Becky grows up to develop some eating disorders (like her mother once had), but whether this is due to heredity or environment is left unexplained in the novel.
One of Pearl Tull's few close friends, Emmaline is the only woman with whom Pearl almost shares her secret that Beck has abandoned her and the children.
The fortune teller who convinces Jenny to marry her first husband.
Ezra's slow-witted but sweet friend from childhood, Josiah becomes a cook at The Homesick Restaurant. Jenny befriends him while Ezra is away from home, but when Pearl catches them in a potentially romantic situation, she slaps Jenny and cruelly calls Josiah, "A crazy! A dummy! A retarded person."
- A 1985 audio recording of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is available on two cassettes from Random House Audio.
- Another of Tyler's novels, The Accidental Tourist, was filmed in 1988 with William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, and Geena Davis (who won an Oscar for her role). The film also was cited by the New York Film Critics as best film, and is available from Warner Home Video.
Something of a surrogate mother to Ezra Tull, Mrs. Scarlatti is the owner of Scarlatti's Restaurant. Originally, she is Ezra's boss; ultimately he becomes her business partner. She leaves the entire restaurant property to him after she dies. (He then changes its name to The Homesick Restaurant.) Unlike Pearl, Ezra's biological mother, Mrs. Scarlatti is a relaxed, flexible woman. When she is dying and Ezra changes the restaurant's atmosphere, she initially takes offense, but ultimately reconciles to his vision.
Joe St. Ambrose
Jenny Tull's third husband, a man whose former wife abandoned him and their large family. Despite this tragedy, Joe remains a pleasant, friendly person. The novel implies that Jenny marries him mostly because she loves nurturing his needy children.
Slevin St. Ambrose
One of Jenny Tull's stepchildren, an intelligent but troubled teenager. Emotionally withdrawn, Slevin has difficulty accepting Jenny as his new mother until he learns that Jenny's father abandoned her just as Slevin's mother abandoned him.
A salesman by profession, Beck Tull is the handsome, psychologically fragile man who rescues the thirty-year-old Pearl from probable spinsterhood. The novel implies her family is of a higher socioeconomic status than his. After more than fifteen years of marriage and three children (Cody, Jenny, and Ezra), he abandons his wife and family, prompting Pearl to insightfully refer to him as "the invisible presence. The absent presence." A family outing, in which Cody and Ezra quarrel over an archery set and Pearl is almost killed by a wayward arrow, precipitates Beck's leaving—a cause and effect relationship that Beck only acknowledges at the end of the novel. With the terse announcement that he doesn't "want to stay married" and that he "won't be visiting the children," Beck walks out. Understandably, Beck's departure had an enormous, lasting effect on Pearl and their children, although they all reacted in very different ways.
At the conclusion of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Beck explains his departure as a reaction to his incapacity to deal with "the grayness, grayness of things; half-right-and-half-wrongness of things." Although he is not really a malevolent character, his behavior is probably the cruelest unconscious event in the novel.
Elder son of Pearl and Beck Tull and brother to Ezra and Jenny, Cody is probably the least sympathetic character in the novel. He also dominates the novel in that Tyler dedicates more chapters to his point of view than to any other character. A troubled childhood (a father who deserted the family, a physically and verbally abusive mother) contributed to some of his worst character traits— meanness, greed, and jealousy (particularly in regard to Ezra, their mother's favorite child).
But it would be simplistic to blame all of his character faults to victimization; after all, Ezra and Jenny turned into nice people. Part of Cody's problems result from his unspoken guilt over his father's departure. Fourteen at the time, he wonders "Was it something I said? Was it something I did? Was it something I didn't do, that made you go away?" He is not to blame here, but since he does not articulate his feelings, nobody in the family understands the extent of his guilt.
Another explanation for Cody's emotional development lies in a need to dominate others; in doing so, he is as domineering as his father was unreliable. He becomes a very successful efficiency expert, an ideal profession for a control-oriented person who doesn't enjoy the present moment. He buys his mother the Baltimore row house which she formerly rented, not out of love, but rather as one more way of competing with Ezra for her affection. The teenaged Cody engineers a variety of schemes to make his tranquil, non-competitive brother look foolish, but by far his cruelest action as an adult is marrying Ruth, his brother's fiancee. That he does not even really like Ruth is more evidence of Cody's obsessive competition to win the love of a mother whom he once called "a raving, shrieking, unpredictable witch." By the conclusion of the novel, Cody, in a face-to-face conversation with the father he hasn't seen in over three decades, learns the truth about his father's abandonment and somewhat reconciles with his bad behavior and history of hurt and anger.
Many critics and readers consider Ezra Tull— the younger son of Pearl and Beck Tull and brother to Cody and Jenny—to be the novel's most sympathetic character. Clearly his mother's pet, Ezra as an adult minimizes the abusive side of Pearl's nature. After Cody, at the final family dinner, describes the recently deceased Pearl as "a raving, shrieking, unpredictable witch," Ezra defends her: " … she wasn't always angry. Really, she was angry very seldom, only a few times widely spaced.…" Many instances of his warmth and generosity exist: he is the only family member to care for the dying Pearl; he tends to Mrs. Scarlatti, his business partner, when she is dying; he befriends the oddball Josiah; he arranges the reunion between Beck and the Tull family; he even refuses to bear a grudge when Cody steals Ruth, the woman whom Ezra loved and intended to marry.
However, Ezra's tendency to see only the sunny side of life often renders him passive. When he as a middle-aged man discovers a possibly malignant lump on his right thigh, his first reaction is "All right. Let it happen. I'll go ahead and die." Unlike his siblings, he never attended college, never married, in fact never really left home, having always shared a house with his mother. Yet ironically, when Ezra witnesses the feeble side of Pearl, he is less affectionate than usual: "He trusted his mother to be everything for him. When she cut her finger with a paring knife, he had felt defeated by her incompetence."
Throughout the novel Ezra strives to have one uninterrupted family dinner at his restaurant—The Homesick Restaurant—but someone, often Pearl, always destroys the continuity by departing early. Unable to achieve this feat until the novel's conclusion, Ezra extends his affection to his neighbors and co-workers.
Jenny Tull is the only daughter of Pearl and Beck Tull and sister to Cody and Ezra. Like her brothers, she suffered the desertion of her father as a child and occasional rages of physical and psychological abuse from her mother. Like Cody and to a lesser extent Ezra, she recalls the painful events of childhood, most of which revolve around her mother. At one point, she recalls her mother as a shrieking witch whose "pale hair could crackle electrically from its bun" and whose "eyes could get small as hatpins." She remembered her mother slamming her against a wall more than once and denigrating her as "cockroach" and "hideous little sniveling guttersnipe." Some of her memories manifest themselves in her dreams, particularly one in which Pearl says in an "informative and considerate tone of voice," that "she was raising Jenny to eat her."
Jenny, however, is far from a self-pitying victim. She goes to college and becomes a competent pediatrician. While none of her three marriages are particularly happy, Jenny is able to raise her stepchildren (who have been deserted by their natural mother) with warmth and efficiency. As a pediatrician, she is sort of surrogate parent to many of her clients.
Having witnessed the worst of her mother as a child, Jenny realizes they have some things in common. Like Pearl, Jenny entered into her first marriage out of recklessness, a sense of adventure. Both are intelligent, intense women with some proclivities toward child abuse under stressful situations. Unlike Pearl, Jenny realizes these tendencies early on and turns her only child over to Pearl— ironically enough—when Jenny cannot take care of her. Determined to be a happier person, Jenny decides to "make it through on a slant. She was trying to lose her intensity." Although she is a generally sympathetic character, Jenny has some flaws. She often jokes her way out of real problems, for example, when her stepson Slevin is having difficulty in school. When her third husband, Joe, suggests they have more children, she intentionally refuses to believe he is serious. Despite such shortcomings, Jenny is a good example of a character who has overcome a difficult childhood and does not reduce herself to a victim.
The son of Cody and Ruth Tull, Luke is smart enough to understand some of his father's ulterior motives. For example, Luke realizes that the bus ticket which teenaged Cody bought for Pearl was less a gift to her than a means to keep her away during Ezra's birthday. Understanding that Cody obsesses over bitter memories, he comments, "What are you, crazy? How come you go on hanging on to these things, year after year after year?" Physically, he is a combination of Beck, Cody, and Ezra Tull, but temperamentally, he is more rational than any of them. Some critics have written that Luke represents the hope that future generations may break cycles of ill will or bad habits.
The matriarch of the Tull clan, Pearl is a rather complex character, not simply "a witch" as two of her children have occasionally described her. Born into a good family, Pearl married fairly late in life to Beck Tull, a handsome farm equipment salesman. Although the union spared her from spinsterhood, she resented having to move every time her husband was transferred at work. Wherever she and her husband settled, Pearl kept herself isolated from the community, a pattern that continued throughout her life. Early in Dinner at the HomesickRestaurant, Beck abandons her and their children, with little more explanation than that he doesn't "want to be married" any longer and that he "won't be visiting the children."
There is actually as much to admire in Pearl as there to detest. First, she is extremely independent and resourceful, sometimes to the detriment of herself. For example, as a young woman, she spurns a college education, because that would be "an admission of defeat." When she suffers a broken arm, Pearl waits almost 48 hours to get medical assistance because she doesn't want to leave the children with the neighbors. When Beck departs, Pearl doesn't succumb to self-pity; she finds an uninteresting job as a cashier at a grocery store and determines to raise the children singlehandedly. A fastidious housekeeper and a perfectionist, she is ultimately as tough on herself as on her children. Yet with her children, she is sometimes too tough, physically and psychologically abusing them in uncontrollable fits of anger. As she is dying, she categorizes Cody, Jenny, and Ezra as "duckers and drafters," and remembers herself as "an angry sort of mother" who was "continually on edge … too burdened … too alone." She wonders if her children will forgive her for being a less than satisfactory parent. In short, Pearl has set impossibly high standards for herself that nobody could satisfy without some assistance, and she is usually too proud to request help.
Ironically, in middle age, Pearl partly redeems herself as a parent by caring for Jenny's daughter when Jenny simply cannot. She also loses some of her anger as she makes the transition from middle age to old age. She possesses much insight into her family. For example, on one occasion, Pearl likens her children's growing up with the "gradual dimming of light at her bedroom door, as if they took some radiance with them as they moved away from her." Her description of her favorite child, Ezra, ("so sweet and clumsy it could break your heart") captures his disposition perfectly.
Originally a cook in The Homesick Restaurant and fiancee to Ezra Tull, she ultimately marries his brother Cody after he pursues her relentlessly. A homely woman with a poor self-image, Ruth is initially suspicious of Cody's attention. Pearl, however, is the only one who grasps Cody's real motivation: to steal away his brother's bride-to-be simply for the sport, the competition. Despite her lack of self-confidence, Ruth is in some ways smarter than her husband, Cody. For instance, while he is attracted to the glamour of owning a farm, she knows what hard work it really requires.
Sam Wiley is Jenny Tull's second husband. Jenny describes him as "the one she loved best." A handsome painter, he abandons Jenny when she is pregnant with Becky. It is implied the marriage failed because it required too much passion.
Alienation and Loneliness
The related themes of alienation and loneliness permeate this novel about the impact of a father's desertion on his wife and family. In the pivotal character of Pearl Tull, Tyler gives us an extremely alienated individual, at least in the sense of being alienated from her community. After Beck deserts her (after more than fifteen years of marriage), she determines to raise her three children singlehandedly, without the slightest assistance from anyone in the neighborhood. Since she can't even confide in her close friend Emmaline that her husband abandoned her, Pearl obviously won't let on to the neighbors. Further, she refuses to discuss the desertion with her children; hence, they are left with the temporary impression that their salesman-father is away on a trip. While Pearl takes pride in her psychology ("They never asked about him. Didn't that show how little importance a father has?… Apparently, she had carried this off—made the transition so smoothly that not a single person guessed. It was the greatest triumph of her life."), the damage of not drawing out her children's true feelings is evident throughout the novel. While today a single-parent family is no longer unusual, it was rather atypical in suburban America in the 1940s and 1950s when the Tull children were growing up.
Pearl's standoffishness has this effect on her eldest son, Cody: "What he wouldn't give to have a mother who acted like other mothers! He longed to see her gossiping with a gang of women in the kitchen.… He wished he had some outside connection, something beyond this suffocating house." Despite being brought up in such an isolated home, Jenny and Ezra as adults are responsible, caring members of their communities. Ezra, in particular, conveys sincere affection for his neighbors and his business associates, never angling for personal gain in the manner of his older brother.
Topics for Further Study
- Discuss the changes that have occurred in the American family's structure from 1930 to the present. Compare and contrast the Tull family against different American families today.
- Explore the ways in which individuals can prevent child abuse and how to deal with it if it occurs.
- Discuss the heredity versus environment question. How much of who we are is determined by genes, and how much is determined by our home environment? Give some examples of specific scientific studies to support your position.
Growth and Development
To what extent do the three Tull children reconcile with their troubled childhood? To what extent do they transcend it? Tyler addresses these rather complex questions in her novel but does not arrive at firm answers. First, Jenny, through the distance of time, realizes she has acquired some of her mother's good and bad character traits (e.g., her orderliness, intelligence, intensity, yet also her tendencies toward child abuse during stressful situations). She gradually but deliberately develops a more relaxed, humorous disposition, becoming a generally happier person in the process but also sacrificing some passion for members of her immediate family.
Ezra, on the other hand, remains something of a child well into middle age: Unmarried, childless, still living with his mother, and never having known real sexual passion (he courts his fiancee, Ruth, in a nearly platonic manner before Cody steals her away), he discerns something missing in his life. "Let it be" is the theme that dominates his existence. He sees himself as being "ruled by a dreamy mood of acceptance that was partly the source of all his happiness and partly his undoing." As Mary Ellis Gibson has written in Southern Literary Journal, "Ezra is the most thorough fatalist in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant." Even so, he develops some coping skills. Mrs. Scarlatti, a woman much more traditionally maternal than Pearl, comes to see Ezra as a surrogate son; Ezra also gives and reciprocates strong affection to many non-family members, including his nephew Luke and his misfit friend Josiah Payson. Perhaps most important, he channels a great deal of his energy and love into making his restaurant a friendly, homey environment—if not necessarily a financial success.
Finally, Cody, the most aggressive of the Tull children, remains as competitive in adulthood as in childhood; stealing his brother's girlfriend, working diligently to be financially successful, maneuvering to win the maternal warmth that he has already had for many years (Pearl feels affection toward him but does not show it often or well.) None of the above brings much happiness to Cody, who remains guilt-ridden, angry, and confused about his motivations until the conclusion of the novel when he confronts the father who left him more than thirty years ago. In that scene, Cody achieves a sort of epiphany, at least partly understanding his actions and reactions in a troubled past.
Even Pearl, perhaps the least likely family candidate for transformation, undergoes some change. She redeems herself somewhat by becoming a much better grandparent than she was a mother and allowing her children as adults to make their own decisions and mistakes. She may not approve of Jenny making three less-than-satisfactory marriages, but she does not interfere to the extent she once did. Toward the end of her long life, she reminisces calmly—not consumed by her former rage—about her life and three children. While she still believes that "something was wrong with all of her children," and "wondered if her children blamed her for something," Pearl does not have the real desire to pursue the matter and quietly dies.
Point of View
One of the principal strengths of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is that it is told from so many different points of views so effectively. Of the novel's ten chapters, two belong to Pearl, two to Jenny, two to Ezra, three to Cody, and one to Cody's son, Luke. Each of the chapters reveals something unique or unusual about the character from whose point of view dominates. As a result of alternating the narration, the reader understands the main characters better than they understand themselves.
The setting for Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is mostly Baltimore, Maryland, a city that figures prominently in many Tyler novels. Pearl has spent most of her adult life there; Ezra has lived almost all of his life in this city; Jenny, with the exception of her college and medical school years, is a Baltimorean; only the nomadic Cody, whose jobs and upward mobility require much travel and moving, spends considerably less time in Baltimore. The time frame of the novel covers roughly fifty-five years, from the middle 1920s—the time of Pearl's marriage—to 1979, the year of her death. This period of more than half a century allows Tyler to richly develop the motivations, complexities, contradictions, and nuances of her main characters.
The title of the novel refers to Ezra's restaurant, an eating place he inherited from his business partner, Mrs. Scarlatti. As many critics have stressed, "homesick" has many different meanings. It can mean "sick for home" (this best applies to Jenny), "sick at home" (Ezra), and "sick from home" (Cody). The concept of time is symbolic for time management consultant Cody, who often desires to escape from unpleasant moments in the present by stepping into pleasant past moments. "If only Einstein were right and time were a kind of river you could choose to step into at any place along the shore," he tells his son Luke.
Although darker than many of Anne Tyler's novels, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant contains many humorously ironic moments. For example, after Pearl's death the minister delivers a respectfully generic eulogy in which he calls her "a devoted wife and a loving mother and a pillar of the community." But Cody is aware "that she hadn't been anyone's wife for over a third of a century; that she'd been a frantic, angry, sometimes terrifying mother; and that she'd never shown the faintest interest in her community." Another example of irony is how hard-driven Cody is particularly competitive with Ezra, probably the least competitive major character in the novel. Sometimes, Ezra does not even realize when Cody is in competition with him, for example, when Cody is desperately wooing Ruth before Ezra marries her. When Cody perceives Ezra as "his oldest enemy," he is actually referring to a person incapable of hating anyone. Also ironic is Jenny's tendency to lavish more affection on her stepchildren than on her husband or members of her immediate family.
Some of the minor characters in the novel provide this quality. Harley Baines, Jenny's first husband, is so controlling (e.g., telling Jenny how many times to chew her food) and methodical (e.g., arranging his textbooks by height and blocks of color) that his brief appearance is comic. Ruth's inability to accept compliments (e.g., when Cody buys her copper-colored roses to match her hair, she thinks he is mocking her) is both amusing and touching. Some of Tyler's matter-of-fact observations (e.g., when Ezra's best cook quits because a horoscope recommends it) also lend occasional comic relief to this novel.
At least two moments in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant qualify as epiphanies, or sudden realizations of the meaning of things. First, in the novel's conclusion, Cody has a private conversation with Beck, the father who abandoned him as a teenager. In the course of their talk, Cody at least partly reconciles with some of his unhappiness and cruelty. Second, Jenny has her own spiritual awakening after she physically abuses her young daughter Becky: "All of her childhood returned to her: her mother's blows and slaps and curses, her mother's pointed fingernails digging into Jenny's arm.…" Subsequently, she suffers a nervous breakdown but recovers (with Pearl's help) and goes on to develop a less driven, happier personality.
Child Abuse in America
Although Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant traces the evolution of the fictional Tull family from roughly 1925 to 1979, its theme of child abuse is particularly relevant to the 1980s, the decade in which the novel was published. The first national studies to determine the prevalence of child abuse were conducted in 1974; five years later, the federal Child abuse Prevention and Treatment Act mandated periodic National Incidence Reports. By 1984—two years after Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant was released—the American Humane Association (AHA) claimed that there were roughly 1.7 million abused or neglected children in the United States. The 1988 Study of National Incidence and Prevalence of Child abuse and Neglect arrived at a total of 1.5 million abused or neglected children, and their report broke down the statistics into three categories of abuse—physical, sexual, and emotional. The report also found that more than one thousand children died as a direct result of maltreatment in the year 1986.
In Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant Pearl Tull periodically abuses her three children physically and emotionally, although never sexually. Jenny Tull, to a lesser extent, abuses her daughter in stressful situations, although Jenny is sensitive enough to realize it and seek help. Most of Pearl's abusive behavior is related to the stress of raising a family alone at a time when single parenting was uncommon and single parents had few services to which they could turn to for help. Compounding this situations are Pearl's perfectionist tendencies and her intense refusal to accept that her marriage was a failure. The extent of her mistreatment of the children is uncertain, since the memories of each child differ sharply. While they all experience or observe some degree of Pearl's rage, none of the children consider the possibility of reporting it to the authorities, an omission in keeping with the spirit of the American times and the lack of social service agencies at that time in history.
Today a greater effort is placed on fighting many of the contributing factors that often lead to child abuse or neglect—poor parenting skills, mental health problems, and substance abuse, to name a few. There are also more social agencies focused on dealing with real or suspected instances of abuse, along with federal and state efforts targeted at its prevention.
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, originally published in the United States by Knopf in 1982, qualified as a critical and commercial success for its somewhat reclusive author, Anne Tyler. In one of her few interviews, Tyler said as quoted in Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook, "I think what I was doing was saying 'Well, all right, I've joked around about families long enough; let me tell you now what I really believe about them.'"
Although her opinion produced a book less optimistic than some of her previous novels, critics (many of whom had ignored Tyler's previous novels) responded positively for the most part. Although Elizabeth Evans in her book Anne Tyler and some other critics thought that using Pearl's deathbed was not a particularly original structural device, the consensus was that Tyler's perception of an unconventional, emotionally scarred family rang fascinating, poignant, and true.
Many commended Tyler's control over multiple points of view, as well as her rich characterizations, and a complex plot structure. In a Yale Review interview with Barbara Lazear Ascher, the writer Eudora Welty lavished more general praise on Tyler: "She is the best.… I told her once if I could have written the last sentence of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, I'd have been happy for the rest of my life." John Updike, in his New Yorker review of the author's ninth novel, was no less complimentary: "She has arrived, I think, at a new level of power, and gives us a lucid and delightful yet complex and sombre improvisation on her favorite theme, family life." Kathleen Woodward in her chapter "Forgetting and Remembering" from the book Anne Tyler as Novelist wrote, "With Pearl Tull, Tyler gives us an indelible compelling portrait of a woman in her last years."
Benjamin DeMott, in The New York Times Book Review, praised Tyler because she "edges deeper into a truth that's simultaneously (and interdependently) psychological, moral and formal— deeper than many living novelists of serious reputations have penetrated, deeper than Miss Tyler has gone before." He also observed that "there's a touch of Dostoyevsky's 'Idiot' in Ezra, a hint of the unposturing selflessness." Donna Gerstenberger, in the "Everybody Speaks" chapter from Anne Tyler as Novelist, wrote, "The meaning, the triumph of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant resides, I think, in the family members' ability to learn to reread the text of self of family relationships that have been previously constructed under immense pressure."
Other critics pointed out that part of Tyler's success was that she did not look for easy answers or convenient scapegoats in her work. For example, Paula Gallant Eckard noted in Southern Literary Journal, "Tyler resists the temptation to indict parents, particularly mothers, for the transgressions of the past and the ultimate shaping of offspring."
A minority of reviewers panned Tyler's novel. For example, James Wolcott, in his highly negative review printed in Esquire, said Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant "is hobbled from page one by its rickety plot structure.… Deathbed retrospectives have been worked to the nub in fiction, and Tyler doesn't come up with any spiffy ways to soup up and customize her time machine."
With its immediate popular critical reception, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant won the PEN/Faulkner award for Fiction and was nominated for both a National Book Critics Circle award and the 1983 Pulitzer Prize. In 1986, Tyler actually won the National Book Critics Circle award, and by 1989, the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Breathing Lessons. As prolific in the 1990s as she was from the beginning of her career, Tyler continues to publish an average of one novel every few years, but seldom talks publicly about her work. Most of her novels concern, to some extent, the joys, ambiguities, and pain in the typical American family. Her more recent books include Saint Maybe(1991), and Ladder of Years (1995).
Henningfeld is a professor of English at Adrian College. In the following essay, she traces the critical history of Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and explores the various psychological interpretations of the novel.
Anne Tyler published her ninth novel, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant in 1982. Set in Baltimore, the novel tells the story of Pearl Tull and her children, Cody, Ezra and Jenny, as they attempt to come to terms with a pivotal event, their abandonment by Beck Tull, husband to Pearl and father to the children.
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant received excellent reviews on its publication. In the New York Times Book Review, Benjamin DeMott called it "a border crossing" for Tyler, a book which pushes her "deep into truth." Likewise, John Updike wrote that Tyler had reached "a new level of power, and gives us a lucid and delightful yet complex and somber improvisation on her favorite theme, family life."
Not all reviewers, however, described Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant so positively. Vivian Gornick in The Village Voice accused Tyler of "arrested development" because of the lack of sexual energy in her novel. She called Tyler's prose "sexually anesthetized." James Wolcott, in a review for Esquire, suggested that the novel "is hobbled from page one on by its rickety plot structure."
Anne Tyler provides for us the way she thinks about Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant in an interview with Sarah English: "I think what I was doing was saying, 'Well, all right, I've joked about families long enough; let me tell you what I really believe about them." A number of critics write extensively on just what it is that Tyler believes about families, using Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant as their evidence. For example, Anne Hall Petry argues in Understanding Anne Tyler that what Tyler "really believes" can be uncovered by a close examination of the word homesick. The word operates on three levels, according to Petry: homesick, as caused by a longing for home when one is away from home; homesick, as in sick of home, a condition often felt by children eager to be on their own; and homesick, as in sick from home, a psychological or emotional illness caused by the home environment.
Certainly, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant can be read from a number of different critical approaches. For example, it is possible to read the novel as a sociological study of abuse and isolation. Because Pearl is so concerned with keeping up the appearances of a happy family, she hides the fact of Beck's desertion from her children, her neighbors, her family, and even her closest friend. Elizabeth Evans argues that the "most poignant example" of Pearl's isolation occurs when she "refuses to allow herself to confide in her old friend Emmaline." Further, the isolation and responsibility of being a single parent cause such strain for Pearl that she often attacks her own children in verbal and physical abuse, as Jenny recalls: "Which of her children had not felt her stinging slap, with the claw-encased pearl in her engagement ring that could bloody a lip at one flick?.… She herself, more than once had been slammed against a wall, been called 'serpent,' 'cockroach,' 'hideous little sniveling guttersnipe.'" Tellingly, just as sociological studies demonstrate, the pattern of abuse repeats itself. When Jenny is a single parent herself, trying to care for her infant daughter Becky while coping with medical school, she finds herself abusing her own daughter: "She slammed Becky's face into her Peter Rabbit dinner plate and gave her a bloody nose. She yanked a handful of hair. All her childhood returned to her.…"
Other critics choose to read Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant from a psychological perspective. In such a reading, the critic often concentrates on the effect of Beck's absence on each of the children, noting the way that their development and maturity have been damaged by their father's desertion. Joseph B. Wagner goes so far as to suggest that Beck's departure is the "single most powerful factor in the development of the central characters.… The rest of their lives are so molded by that departure that their personalities correspond to psychoanalytic profiles of children who, at similar ages, are also abandoned by their fathers."
In another psychological study, Joseph C. Voelker sees in each of the children the idealization process. Each child longs for and attempts to recreate the ideal family for himself or herself. Cody, for example, longs for a mother who stays at home and visits with other housewives. Later, he buys a farmhouse and imagines himself settling in with his family, something he never does in reality. Ezra idealizes the notion of the family dinner at his business, The Homesick Restaurant. Although someone (usually Pearl) always explodes into anger each time he tries to arrange the perfect family dinner, he nonetheless repeats the scene throughout the book. Rather than starting a family himself, he nurtures strangers by providing them with food. Jenny goes through three marriages trying to find the perfect family. In her third marriage, to a man who has six children and who has been abandoned by his wife, she finds her ideal: the sheer activity of raising so many children protects her from emotional investment in them.
What Do I Read Next?
- The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and other Stories, Carson McCullers's 1951 novel. Considered by many critics to be the author's finest work, this story is about a twisted love triangle in a small southern town during the 1940s.
- As I Lay Dying. In William Faulkner's 1930 novel, the dying matriarch Addie Bundren bears many similarities to Pearl Tull in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. The two novels are also somewhat alike structurally.
- Anne Tyler's Pulitzer Prize-nominated 1985 novel The Accidental Tourist is about a travel writer coping with the loss of his only son.
- The Portable Chekhov. Published in 1947, this volume includes twenty-eight short stories, two plays, and a vivid selection of letters by Anton Chekhov, generally considered one of the greatest and most prolific Russian writers.
Finally, it is possible to examine Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant from a formal approach. That is, by examining the literary tools Tyler uses to construct her novel, we can begin to understand not only what the novel means but also how it means. One critic who takes a formal approach to the novel is Donna Gerstenberger. In her essay, "Everybody Speaks," she examines the narrative voice Tyler constructs for her novel. Gerstenberger writes that this voice is one of "calm reasonableness," and that she "democratically parcels out reason and unreason so evenly, individual voices in her novels seem to have an equal claim on the reader.…" In other words, each of the points of view Tyler uses in Dinnerat the Homesick Restaurant helps to establish that none of the characters is all good, or all bad, all sane or all insane. This evenness in voice allows us to read all of the characters sympathetically.
Similarly, a formal approach often takes into account images and metaphors. By comparing an abstract idea to something concrete, the writer is able to reveal her meaning subtly. Robert W. Croft argues that food is the central metaphor of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Food represents physical and emotional nurturing. Thus, in the early part of the book, Pearl's refusal to feed her children adequately becomes symbolic of her inability to emotionally nurture the children. After a particularly violent episode of abuse, for example, "Cody had such a loaded feeling in his throat, he never wanted to eat again." Jenny's abuse of her daughter Becky occurs as she tries to feed her.
Tyler often uses food in moments of healing in the book, as well. When Jenny suffers a nervous breakdown, her mother feeds her and helps her to regain her health. Ezra repeatedly tries to heal his family by planning and hosting family dinners at the Homesick Restaurant. By the end of the book, it seems at least possible that the family will be able to complete one dinner together, although even here Tyler leaves us in doubt. The long-absent Beck agrees to come to the dinner, but says, "…I warn you, I plan to leave before that dessert wine's poured."
Just as food is a paradox in that it represents both moments of violence and of healing, there are other telling paradoxes and contradictions in the story. As Gerstenberger argues, each of the characters shares in the telling of the story of the Tull family, and thus each seems to wield equal authority in the telling. Nonetheless, each character's story is self-contradictory. For example, Cody, the child who feels the most anger at his father's departure, manages to recreate his father's life in his own family. As a successful efficiency engineer, he moves his family from town to town, never letting them put down roots or establish themselves. Ironically, it is Cody who seems to make peace with his father by the end of the book and it is Cody who reintegrates his father back into the family: "Cody held on to his elbow and led him toward the others." Jenny, too, provides us with a model of self-contradiction. Throughout the book, she seems to be the child most affected by Pearl's abuse. When she is at home with her mother after Cody has left for college and Ezra has left for the army, she is uneasy and has nightmares that her mother is a witch. Nonetheless, after she leaves home and her first marriage begins to fail, she returns home. In the place where she was least safe as a child, she feels most safe as an adult: "She loosened; she was safe at last, in the only place where people knew exactly who she was and loved her anyway."
And perhaps this is what Tyler "really believes" about families: that they are themselves paradoxical and self-contradictory. Families are havens as well as prisons, the place of much joy and the place of much sorrow. By the end of the book, we see that each Tull child has created and recreated his or her life and family through the act of memory. In Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, memory is like nothing so much as one of Ezra's recipes. Each character, through the act of memory, experiments with what to leave in and what to take out, adjusting here and there, like adding salt to stew. Beck's arrival in the closing pages of the book provides the missing ingredient that each has struggled to find throughout the book. There are still troubling and contradictory messages on the closing pages. During his mother's funeral, for example, Cody reflects "That her life had been very long indeed, but never full; stunted was more like it." Nevertheless, Cody's final memories of his mother are of her "upright form along the grasses, her hair lit gold, her small hands smoothing her bouquet while the arrow joumeyed on." These peaceful, positive memories suggest, at least, that the family story can always be revised.
Source: Diane Henningfeld, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1997.
Carol S. Manning
In the following excerpt, Manning argues that Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant takes the familiar figure of the wandering adventurer and portrays him as "irresponsible, vain, and selfcentered" by showing the effects of his absence on his family. She compares his role in Tyler's novel to that of King McLain in Eudora Welty's The Golden Apples.
A familiar and appealing figure of the hero in narrative is that of the adventurer who wanders either alone or with male comrades in quest of some goal or in simple harmony with nature. He encounters heroic adventures along the way. The image has come down to us from Odysseus, is seen in American fiction in a character such as James Fenimore Cooper's Natty Bumppo, and has received wide circulation through western movie heroes such as Shane and the Lone Ranger. This hero is almost always unmarried and hence does not have the encumbrance of a wife or family to handicap his freedom. But even if, like Odysseus, the hero is married and with child, his family rarely enters his mind, and the author largely ignores the day-by-day circumstances of those left at home. Thus the family is seldom a concern of the reader. The story or novel is about the free-roaming hero and his adventures.…
With her short stories "The Hitch-Hikers" and "Death of a Traveling Salesman," [Eudora) Welty separates herself from this romantic tradition by focusing on wanderers who learn that such freedom is not necessarily something to relish. In a subsequent work, The Golden Apples, she counters this romantic tradition more sharply. So does the younger author Anne Tyler in her novel Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Both writers undermine the male fantasy of the free-spirited hero by focusing on what the fantasy ignores. As viewed by these clear-eyed realists, the wandering hero is not single but married, and it is the home world he in effect deserts that the authors take as their focus. Exhibiting similar visions, Welty and Tyler portray the roaming hero—in the guise of a traveling salesman—as irresponsible, vain, and self-centered. They thus unmask and unhorse the romantic quester.
Though distinctly different works, The Golden Apples and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant have striking similarities. Both traveling salesmen in these narratives are conceited, flamboyant men…. Tyler's Beck Tull lacks the exalted status that [Welty's King MacLain] has inherited—in fact, Beck seems to have no family history—and therefore depends chiefly on his charm and good looks to get ahead. Like King, he is, as a young man, handsome, vain, and courtly. "Lean and rangy," he waves his black hair extravagantly; his eyes are such a brilliant blue that they seem unreal; and he woos women with gifts of chocolates and flowers, many compliments, and perfect manners ("he was respectful to a fault and never grabbed at her the way some other men might").
The women these handsome, flamboyant heroes court and marry are themselves similar yet are opposites of their husbands. Both cavaliers surprisingly undertake fast and fierce courtships of women the neighbors consider unlikely candidates for marriage. King woos Snowdie Hudson, who, being an albino, had seemed destined to remain a wallflower and a school teacher all her life. Beck woos Pearl Cody, who, at age 30, is already considered an old maid—and is six years older than Beck. The like-named Snowdie and Pearl are swept off their feet by the dashing King and Beck. Married, Snowdie and Pearl turn to meticulous housekeeping and homemaking. As one character says of Snowdie, "At her house it was like Sunday even in the mornings, every day, in that cleaned up way." Similarly, Pearl concentrates on making each house she and her husband move into "airtight and rustproof and waterproof." At first, it looks as though neither woman will have any children. But finally, Snowdie has twin sons and Pearl has two sons and a daughter.
Meanwhile, their husbands are off selling their wares—King peddles tea and spices; Beck's line is farm and garden equipment. After a few years, King comes home less and less often and then seems to have disappeared for good, leaving his hat on the banks of the Big Black River to hint that he has drowned. In contrast, Beck's departure is sudden. After twenty years of coming home more or less regularly on weekends, he announces one Sunday in 1944 that he doesn't want to stay married any longer. He packs and leaves that very night.
In running away, both men are, like the conventional roaming hero, seeking adventure and glamor but also escape from the responsibilities, confinement, and expectations of home. Despite his law degree, King had become a traveling salesman in the first place so he could come and go as he pleases—could, as he says, "make considerable trips off and only [have] my glimpses of the people back here." He allegedly returns one afternoon a few years after disappearing but beats a hasty retreat when confronted with a vision of home responsibilities in the forms of his young, rambunctious twin sons on roller skates. Beck also returns after two or three years, but rather than announcing himself, he spies on his family from across the street, as King had spied on his through a porch window. When Beck sees his oldest son come out, pick up the evening newspaper and casually flip it in the air, he conveniently concludes that his family is getting along well enough without him, so he too hastily beats a retreat. Beck doesn't want to get close to anyone: "Oh, it's closeness that does you in," he says. Near the end of the novel, Beck tells his son that he had deserted his family because of the "grayness of things; half-right-and-half-wrongness of things. Everything tangled, mingled, not perfect any more. I couldn't take that," he says. "Your mother could, but not me." So Beck—like King and the other wandering heroes—pursues his own whims and leaves his wife to cope with the tangled, imperfect home world.
But whereas King and Beck avoid the grayness of home, the authors of these works do not. For in contrast to the male fantasy that focuses on the adventures of the wanderer, The Golden Apples and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant focus on the home world that the hero flees. By thus showing us the consequences of his desertion of his family, Welty and Tyler unhorse the hero. They further deflate his romantic image by revealing him to be an ordinary—not glamorous—man when he does briefly pop up in the narrative.
Throughout most of Tyler's long novel and Welty's complex, interrelated cycle of stories, the runaway husband is absent both from home and from the fictional scene, yet he is never forgotten by those he has left behind. In fact, Beck's and King's desertions of their families are the crucial events in the lives of their wives and children.… Whereas King leaves his family in a small town where he and the family are well known, Beck leaves his family in a Baltimore neighborhood, where he is virtually unknown and goes unmissed. In fact, part of Beck's problem, in contrast to King's, is that Beck fears he is a nobody. But whereas Beck's absence makes no ripple in the community, it causes his wife Pearl as much pain as King's causes Snowdie. Though she has come to see him as a slangy, incompetent, unreliable man, Pearl nonetheless dreams about him, longs for his return, and plans how nice she will act if he does: "He would come with presents for them and she'd be the one to open the door—perfumed, in her Sunday dress, maybe wearing a bit of rouge."
Both wives also feel humiliated by their husbands' desertions. Initially, Snowdie tries to cover King's absence by telling the neighbors that her husband has to be away because of fragile health; he needs "the waters." Similarly, for years Pearl pretends to her children and the neighbors that Beck is only on an extended business trip. Fearing the gossip and charity of the neighbors, both Snowdie and Pearl in their pride keep close counsel with themselves. Pearl shuts all the neighbors out, allows herself no friends. Snowdie continues to contribute to community life but maintains a personal distance.
Still another cost of the husbands' wanderlust is financial hardship for their families. The abandoned wives have to find some means to support their families, and this in a time when work opportunities for women are few. Snowdie takes in boarders, and Pearl gets a job as a cashier in a local grocery store. Once her children begin to leave home and their rooms become available, Pearl takes in boarders as well.
Just as Snowdie and Pearl suffer as a consequence of their husbands' wanderlust, so do their children.… Pearl Tull's children, who are 14, 11, and 9 when their father runs away, are all emotionally stunted by his desertion. The middle child Ezra is the stay-at-home and nurturer in this case, while Cody and Jenny feel driven to get away. Beck's desertion affects Cody, the oldest, most noticeably and directly. He ever after wonders if he is to blame for his father's leaving. Addressing his father in one of his interior monologues, as Welty's Ran MacLain does at the beginning of his story, Cody wonders, "Was it something I said? Was it something I did? Was it something I didn't do, that made you go away?" Because he senses that his brother is his mother's favorite, Cody especially desires his father's love and attention. He becomes absorbed with climbing the business ladder of success, to prove himself, unlike his father, a good provider for his family, but also in hopes of winning his father's appreciation and approval, should Beck ever return. Cody even enters his father's profession—he is a traveling salesman, of sorts. But what he sells is efficiency and ideas, and he is expert in his field. In leaving home, Cody is not, like Beck, seeking adventure and escape from home responsibilities. Indeed, in his determination to avoid repeating his father's life, he takes his wife and son with him wherever he goes, and he consistently aids his mother financially.
Cody and his siblings suffer doubly from their father's desertion, first simply from their father's absence and second from the consequences of that absence on their mother. Pearl's behavior toward her children is erratic. After a long day on her feet at the grocery store, she frequently comes home feeling tired, overworked, put upon, lonely, and frustrated by her limited ability to provide. Turning abusive, she takes her frustration and resentment out on her children, attacking them both physically and verbally.
Near the ends of their works, both Eudora Welty and Anne Tyler bring the missing husband back on the scene. Though distinctly different in detail, these endings are strikingly similar in scene, purpose, and effect. The occasion in each case is a funeral—Katie Rainey's funeral in The Golden Apples, at which the whole Morgana community gathers; and Pearl Tull's funeral in Dinner, at which Pearl's whole family gathers. These endings humanize the runaway husbands and further undermine the familiar fantasy of the admirable, freespirited adventurer.…
In the last chapter of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Beck Tull comes back home to attend his wife's funeral. Though he has not seen his family for 35 years, Pearl has made sure he is there at the end. Having him invited to the funeral may be her means of triumphing over him: she causes him, after 35 years of absence, to fulfill at least one of his obligations as husband and father. Or getting him to the funeral may be her revenge on him, for she anticipates that he will expose himself to his children as still the vain, weak man she knew him to be decades before.
And she is right. Now 79 years old, Beck still wears his hair in "a fan-shaped pompadour, still thick and sharply crimped," and he comes dressed nattily, in a pinstriped but "ill-fitting navy blue suit" with a "gangsterish air." Despite his long desertion of his family, he seems to expect to be welcomed home with open arms and to be made a great to-do over—as though he had been away on some noble quest or is returning a hero of war. When his oldest son Cody recognizes him, Beck responds, Tyler tells us, "with a triumphant nod" and the words," 'Yes,… it's your father speaking, Cody." But in one of the funniest scenes in contemporary literature, Beck's children rob their father of his expected welcome as returning hero. Proving themselves the children of their mother, who had gone on for years pretending her absentee husband was only away on a prolonged business trip, they seem hardly fazed by Beck's presence now. Sweet Ezra politely treats him as just one of the family rather than as honored guest; Cody mockingly pretends that Beck has never been away; and Jenny seems about as interested in her father as she would be in any stranger off the street.
Just as Beck's children have never understood why their father left, neither has the reader known what exactly precipitated his departure. So at the end of the novel, through a conversation between Cody and Beck, Tyler makes sure both Cody and the reader realize that Beck's wandering has in no way been noble, glamorous, or even purposeful. It is in this conversation that Beck refers to not having been able to stand the imperfectability, the grayness, of family life. He indicates that, after one more example of that grayness, he had impulsively left his wife:
"I was sitting over a beer in the kitchen that Sunday evening and all at once, not even knowing I'd do it, I said, 'Pearl, I'm leaving."'
His actions in the years that followed were just as unplanned, just as reflective of his wishy-washy character. He "[h]ad a few pals, a lady friend from time to time," accepted whatever transfers the company gave him. In his infrequent notes home to his wife, he bragged about the opportunities opening up before him when there were no such opportunities (and Beck was not the man to make opportunities happen). In his old age, he, like King (and like Odysseus), fears that he has ended up on the wrong end of his travels: he sorrowfully anticipates that, now that his wife has died, his current "lady friend" will expect him to marry her at last.
In focusing on the day-to-day lives of those left at home, then, Welty and Tyler have uncovered the realism ignored by male fantasies about wandering adventurers. They expose the emotional pain and hardships faced by those left at home. But this focus on the home reveals something else as well: the strength of the wives left to cope as best they can. Neither Snowdie nor Pearl is faultless, despite their suggestive names, yet both display a competence and a valor that deserve to be sung. As conventional and as faithful as Penelope, both wives wait longingly for 30-odd years for the return of their wandering husbands, yet both survive and succeed quite well without those husbands. Indeed, when her husband does ultimately return to her in his sixties, Snowdie MacLain discovers that this fulfillment of her wish isn't such a blessing after all. "I don't know what to do with him," Miss Snowdie says, and Welty adds:
When her flyaway husband had come home a few years ago, at the age of sixty-odd, and stayed, they said she had never gotten over it—first his running away, then his coming back to her.
Had Pearl Tull been so unfortunate as to get her "flyaway husband" back, no doubt she would have experienced the same rude awakening. Moreover, had a clear-eyed realist—or a female Homer—told the Odysseus story, Penelope would, I suspect, have had the final line in that epic. Having lived, like Snowdie and Pearl, more of her life without her husband than with him, surely she would have been more jolted by than overjoyed by his return. Penelope might say, with Snowdie and Pearl, "I don't know what to do with him."
Source: Carol S. Manning, "Welty, Tyler, and Traveling Salesmen: The Wandering Hero Unhorsed," in The Fiction of Anne Tyler, edited by C. Ralph Stephens, University Press of Mississippi, 1990, pp. 110-18.
Mary Ellis Gibson
In the following excerpt, Gibson suggests that Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant contains Tyler's most complex treatment of the idea that one's fate may be determined by one's family situation.
A careful reading of Tyler's recent work suggests a philosophical coherence and depth residing in aptly chosen domestic details. Like many writers, southern and otherwise, Tyler is obsessed with family, but this obsession does not fall into the familiar pattern of nature versus nurture, of maturity forged out of or against familial influences. Instead, for Tyler the familial becomes the metaphysical. Family is seen in the light of cosmic necessity, as the inevitable precondition of human choice. As Updike perceptively says of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, "genetic comedy … deepens into the tragedy of closeness, of familial limitations that work upon us like Greek fates and condemn us to lives of surrender and secret fury." Updike is surely right to suggest that fatedness is at the center of Tyler's family fictions.
Yet fate in these novels is not precisely the fate of Greek tragedy. Tyler's fates lie somewhere between the classical Greek fates, or moira, who work our destinies in accordance with some cosmic order—those fates who preside over Sophoclean irony—and the more oppressive fate or heimarmene of the gnostic dualists and their anti-metaphysical descendents the existentialists. In Tyler's fiction, tragedy and comedy, or the mix of them, grow not from the conjunction of a hero's hybris and his fate but from the contest between human caring and nihilism. Again and again we see Tyler's characters, with their rootedness, their entanglements, and their inherited predispositions, come up against the possibility of change. Tyler's families live through a repeating pattern of desertion and reunion. Those who desert—or escape—inevitably carry their pasts with them; those who remain are in danger of becoming too passive, of awakening to find themselves in situations not of their making, of becoming dissociated from their own bodies and the physical world around them. In narrative structure, in characterization, and in the emblems through which she describes the human plight, Tyler works an intricate commentary on the nature of fate and on the importance of family to individual understandings of fate and responsibility.
These fundamental concerns come together with the greatest complexity in Tyler's most recent and, I think, her best novel, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. The novel opens at the bedside of Pearl Cody Tull, eighty-five years old, blind, and dying in a row house in urban Baltimore. Pearl's memories of the half-century since she married Beck Tull and left her genteel home in Raleigh, N.C., are interwoven with her three children's attempts to understand their father's desertion, their mother's love and anger, and their own responsibility for themselves. Cody, the eldest, has become a travelling man like his father, but a successful and driven efficiency expert rather than a two-bit salesman. Ezra, the middle child, watches faithfully at his mother's bedside, while she reflects that he "hadn't really lived up to his potential." Never having gone to college, Ezra runs a restaurant on St. Paul Street, the Homesick Restaurant, where his greatest pleasure is cooking for others and his continually frustrated hope is for his own family to finish a celebratory meal together. The youngest child, Jenny, has become a pediatrician. She has left her first husband whom she married in order not to be "defenceless," and she has been deserted by her second. Almost by accident she stumbles into a third marriage to a man with a half-dozen children who feel as wounded by their own mother's desertion as Jenny does by Beck Tull's. Pearl Tull reflects that each of her children has an important flaw. In their turn, her children have inherited much of their mother's temperament, and their lives have been formed in response to her abuse. Like her mother, Jenny fears closeness with her own family; like his mother, Cody is prone to violent rages.
All these strands of the Tulls' story are developed through a complex narrative structure. The careful weaving of past, present, and future is an advance on Tyler's earlier novels, and narrative structure here focuses more clearly then before on the present as a moment of crisis between past and future. While the Tulls' story suggests no overarching cosmic pattern or design, no future rewards or punishment, no justice on earth or hereafter, it focuses our attention on moments of transition when the family comes together to celebrate or to mourn a change. For the Tulls, almost any moment can be a moment of crisis, almost any conversation can be revealing. So it is not surprising when Pearl thinks to herself on her deathbed, "You could pluck this single moment out of all time … and still discover so much about her children."…
The narrative structure of the novel as a whole is designed to bring past and future together more subtly than in any of Tyler's earlier novels, except perhaps Searching for Caleb. Tyler no longer relies on dated chapter headings to peg down chronology as she did in Celestial Navigation and in Morgan'sPassing. The third person narration of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant allows her to move easily from one character's thoughts to another's and to move back and forth in time. Thus she avoids the sometimes jolting and mechanical transitions from past to present that characterize her firstperson novel Earthly Possessions.
The "Beaches on the Moon" episode of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant best illustrates the new subtlety of Tyler's narrative structure and the thematic coherence it makes possible. The novel begins in 1979, the year of Pearl's death, moves backward in time to Pearl's childhood, to Beck's desertion in 1944, and to various events of the children's growing up and their adult lives. Each episode brings us close to one of the central characters and shows us the family largely through his or her eyes. "Beaches on the Moon," a chapter at the center of the novel, shows us Ezra's "tragedy" through his mother's recollections. Cody has "stolen" his brother Ezra's fiancee, Ruth Spivey, a "country cook" from the West Virginia hills. Years later (in the early 1970's) Pearl with Ezra's help keeps up her habit of spring cleaning Cody's farmhouse—the place near Baltimore where he had once meant for Ruth to live. The chapter is an intricate weaving together of past and present. It carries us through the narrative of Cody's marriage and Ezra's grief, but more importantly it brings us face to face with Pearl's most direct meditation on the familial fate. This moment is made possible by the pattern of Pearl's recollections; the present of Pearl's sweeping and cleaning becomes the fulcrum between past and future.
The chapter begins several years before Pearl's death, before her encroaching blindness, but the image of Pearl at the beginning of the novel, blind and ill, presides over the view of her here. From present tense narration the chapter shifts to past perfect and then to past tense, as Pearl recalls Ezra's grief. Past and present alternate rapidly as the chapter follows both Pearl's cleaning and her relationship with Cody and Ruth after their marriage. At the very end of the chapter Pearl is reminded of an incident still farther back in the past—back in the pre-World War I days when her school friend Linda Lou eloped with the history teacher. As the chapter returns to its predominant present, Pearl reflects that even Linda Lou's scandalous baby is an old man by now. Like Pearl herself and like Cody's farmhouse, he is greying toward death.
These complex recollections make possible and understandable Pearl's most direct confrontation with what she considers to be the family fate. As Pearl remembers Cody's marriage and his deliberate distance, she confronts the failure of her family. The narrative shifts to the present tense:
Pearl believes now that her family has failed. Neither of her sons is happy, and her daughter can't seem to stay married. There is no one to accept the blame for this but Pearl herself, who raised these children single-handed and did make mistakes, oh, a bushel of mistakes. Still, she sometimes has the feeling that it's simply fate, and not a matter for blame at all. She feels that everything has been assigned, has been preordained; everyone must play his role. Certainly she never intended to foster one of those good son/bad son arrangements, but what can you do when one son is consistently good and the other consistently bad? What can the sons do, even?
Pearl ends these reflections by encountering the force of time directly in the shape of her own aging face:
In the smallest bedroom, a nursery, a little old lady in a hat approaches. It's Pearl, in the speckled mirror above a bureau. She leans closer and traces the lines around her eyes. Her age does not surprise her. She's grown used to it by now. You're old for so much longer than you're young, she thinks. Really it hardly seems fair.
Finally Pearl draws comfort from her futile spring cleaning, a present and future testament of her concern. Together, she thinks, she and Ezra will go on cleaning season after season, "the two of them bumping down the driveway, loyal and responsible, together forever." This view of Pearl, like the other episodes in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, implicitly shows us the importance of the past for shaping the present and the future, and vice versa; we know that even as Pearl herself is aging toward death her children, aging too, are devising ways of going on with their lives.…
Virtually all of the major characters in Dinner at the Homesick Restuarant think of themselves as fated, though they may be equally mistaken in passively accepting or in willfully seeking to change their fates. At the first family dinner in Ezra's restaurant, when he announces his partnership in the business, Ezra reflects optimistically on the family gathering: "It's just like fate." (But the dinner is fated as always to end in a family quarrel.) Ezra's passivity is the consequence of his fatalism and of his misjudgment about the nature of his family's fates. Approaching forty at the end of the novel, Ezra thinks to himself, "He had never married, never fathered children, and lost the one girl he had loved out of sheer fatalism, lack of force, a willing assumption of defeat. (Let it be was the theme that ran through his life. He was ruled by a dreamy mood of acceptance that was partly the source of all his happiness and partly his undoing.)" Ezra is the most thorough fatalist in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, and in this he is somewhat like Jeremy Pauling in Tyler's earlier novel Celestial Navigation. Interestingly, Ezra is also Pearl Tull's favorite child—mother and son share a certain fatalism, but Pearl lacks Ezra's dreamy acceptance. She is all sharp edges, and while she is passive in important matters of concern to her children, she rebels at the one thing no one can alter, her encroaching blindness.
In contrast to Ezra's dreamy fatalism and Pearl's angry, self-justifying fatalism is Cody's relentless activity. Early in their acquaintance Cody catches Ruth reading her horoscope. "Powerful ally will come to your rescue. Accent today on high finance," Ruth reads with a sneer. "I mean who do they reckon they're dealing with?" Cody determines to become himself Ruth's "powerful ally." Out of sheer desire to have whatever Ezra has, he will make Ruth's horoscope prove true. Yet for all his relentless will, Cody can't make himself accept what he has or who he is. After he is injured in an industrial accident and quarrels with his family, Cody thinks his life is like "some kind of plot where someone decided, long before I was born, I would live out my days surrounded by people who were … nicer than I am, just naturally nicer without even having to try.…" Cody tries with all his energies to have the world for himself; as an efficiency expert he is obsessed with the control of time. Yet even he feels, especially when presented with his family, that his life is plotted in a pattern he did not design. His very relentlessness seems fated, and it makes him less sympathetic than the more passive Ezra.
Jenny, in contrast, is the only character in the novel who comes to deny the family fate, though at one time she too has asked herself, "Was this what it came to—that you never could escape? That certain things were doomed to continue, generation after generation?" In her youth Jenny has tried to protect herself from fate. She marries partly in response to a fortune teller's advice that otherwise she will be "destroyed by love." Approaching middle age, she has learned to "make it through life on a slant," and she reflects ironically that the fortune teller was wrong—love cannot destroy her. She is alternately disengaged and engaged with life, ironically distant and yet taking responsibility for herself and her children. And she refuses to believe family determines future. As she tells one of her step-children, "I don't see the need to blame adjustment, broken homes, bad parents, that sort of thing. We make our own luck, right?"
Jenny could easily be taken to speak for Anne Tyler, who has herself said she tends to see life through a "sort of mist of irony." But the novel suggests that even Jenny can't altogether make her own luck. As if to point to the problem clearly, Jenny's daughter repeats and enlarges her mother's flaws. Jenny, who is always eating lettuce and lemon juice, has a daughter who is anorexic. Analogously, Tyler's novel doesn't make its own luck either. In spite of comic moments, things are never resolvable into an unequivocally happy ending.
This interplay of fatalism and will is even more complex in Anne Tyler's novels than I have so far suggested. Fate is never reducible to a series of statements about it; and Tyler's work has the power to engage us seriously because she uses in her own quirky way the oldest emblems of the plight of humans who feel fated in destinies without meaningful cause.
The sense of having been thrown into an alien world may be expressed in nausea, in homesickness, or in what Annette Kolodny calls [in Feminist Criticism, edited by Cheryl L. Brown and Karen Olson] reflexive perception—the sense of finding oneself in a situation, of being dissociated from one's body or the world around one. In Tyler's novels the problem of homesickness is presented concretely through minor characters; her novels are filled with hitchhikers and other waifs. More importantly, nausea, homesickness, and dissociation are the stuff of the lives of Tyler's central characters. These motifs permeate Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, though their expression is less extreme here than in Tyler's earlier novels Celestial Navigation and Earthly Possessions.…
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, I believe, goes beyond these earlier novels both in subtlety and humanity. While it retains the philosophical dimension of Tyler's earlier novels, it makes the situations of aloneness and homesickness meaningful through conditions which are, at least superficially, less unusual than those in the two earlier novels. But despite ordinary domestic appearancs, the characters' situations in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant are extreme. (By implication, all of our situations are extreme.) All of the Tull family experience dissociation from themselves and their actions. Pearl, for example, says, "Sometimes I stand outside my body and just watch it all, totally separately." All the Tulls, too, live with loneliness and fear. None of this is glossed over, none of it is finally mitigated by the happenings of plot. Beck Tull at last arrives for a family dinner—but only on the occasion of Pearl's funeral.
And yet, Tyler manages to suggest that people do go on attempting to nourish each other. At the funeral dinner Beck looks down the table and exclaims in surprise, "It looks like this is one of those big, jolly, noisy, rambling … why, families!" Cody retorts, "You think we're a family.… You think we're some jolly, situation-comedy family when we're in particles, torn apart, torn all over the place, and our mother was a witch." In many ways Cody is right. Yet the Tulls are a family. The narrator of Tyler's novel never consigns them to total fragmentation and alienation, and the Tulls never quite give up on themselves. As the narrator observes, "In fact, they probably saw more of each other than happy families did. It was almost as if what they couldn't get right, they had to keep returning to."
Tyler never quite becomes either a fatalist or a nihilist, though both attitudes seem possible given the human situation as she sees it. The question of fate—of necessity without meaningful design—as it is developed in Tyler's narrative suggests that Tyler's fictional world is kin to those of gnostic dualism and of twentieth-century existentialism. Yet there is no superior wisdom to which Tyler's characters might awaken, and their choices are not so bleak as they are in the existentialist novel. Forlornness and ironies there are in plenty, but Tyler's irony is not mordant. Instead, it can be tinged with humor, as if to imply that ironic distance is as authentic as and more survivable than despair. As her latest title suggests, fatalism and despair are balanced by attempted human sympathy and nourishment; homesickness may make possible human efforts to connect. Tyler's world is in fact something like Pascal's, but without a god toward whom to make a leap of faith. In the Pensées, Pascal writes, "I am frightened and amazed at finding myself here rather than there; for there is no reason whatever why here rather than there, why now rather than then." For Tyler's characters such fear and amazement are mingled, with fear often overpowering amazement. For the novelist herself, amazement predominates in the "setting-apart situation" she believes is necessary to art. "I am still surprised, to this day," she writes, "to find myself where I am. My life is so streamlined and full of modern conveniences. How did I get here? I have given up hope, by now, of ever losing my sense of distance; in fact, I seem to have come to cherish it."
Tyler's recent novels, particularly Celestial Navigation, Earthly Possessions, and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, are structured by her investigation of what such a "sense of distance" means. She insists on asking directly questions of metaphysical dimension: Why are we here? How do we happen to be who we are? Tyler's characters long for a comprehensible design, a celestial pattern by which or toward which they might navigate. In their gropings toward explanations for their own motives and choices, the question of fate recurs with a singular urgency. It is the measure against which we see Tyler's ordinary families struggle toward a modicum of sympathy and grace.
Source: Mary Ellis Gibson, "Family as Fate: The Novels of Anne Tyler," in Southern Literary Journal, Vol. 16, Fall, 1983, pp. 47-58.
Barbara Lazear Ascher, "A Visit with Eudora Welty," in Yale Review, Vol. 74, No. 1, autumn, 1984, p. 149.
Benjamin DeMott, "Funny, Wise and True," in New York Times Book Review, March 14, 1982, p. 14.
Paula Gallant Eckard, "Family and Community in Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant," in Southern Literary Journal, Vol. 22, No. 2, Spring 1990, pp. 33-44.
Sarah English, "Anne Tyler," in Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1982, Gale, 1983, p. 194.
Elizabeth Evans, Anne Tyler, Twayne Publishers, 1993.
Donna Gerstenberger, "Everybody Speaks," in Anne Tyler as Novelist, edited by Dale Salwak, University of Iowa Press, 1994, pp. 138-46.
Mary Ellis Gibson, "Family as Fate: The Novels of Anne Tyler," in Southern Literary Journal, Vol. 15, No. 3, fall, 1983, pp. 47-58.
John Updike, "On Such a Beautiful Green Little Planet," in The New Yorker, April 5, 1982, pp. 193-97.
James Wolcott, "Strange New World," in Esquire, April 1982, p. 123-4.
Kathleen Woodward, "Forgetting and Remembering," in Anne Tyler as Novelist, edited by Dale Salwak, University of Iowa Press, 1944.
Robert W. Croft, Anne Tyler: A Bio-Bibliography, Greenwood Press, 1995.
A useful volume that opens with a short biography of Tyler, includes a listing of primary sources, and concludes with an extensive annotated bibliography of secondary sources.
Mary J. Elkins, "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant: Anne Tyler and the Faulkner Connection," in Atlantis, Vol. 10, No. 2, Spring 1985, pp. 93-105.
Compares and contrasts Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant to William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.
Susan Gilbert, "Anne Tyler," in Southern Women Writers: The New Generation, edited by Tonette Bond Inge, University of Alabama Press, 1990, pp. 251-78.
Feminist reading of Tyler's novels through Accidental Tourist.
Vivian Gomick, "Anne Tyler's Arrested Development," in Village Voice, March 30, 1982, pp. 40-1.
Review faults Tyler for lack of sexual energy in the novel.
Karen L. Levenback, "Functions of (Picturing) Memory," in Anne Tyler as Novelist, edited by Dale Salwak, University of Iowa Press, 1994, pp. 77-85.
Short essay on the act of remembering in Tyler's novels.
Alice Hall Petry, "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant," in her Understanding Anne Tyler, University of South Carolina Press, 1990, pp. 186-209.
Author discusses the different connotations of the term "homesick," as it relates to major characters in Tyler's novel.
Alice Hall Petry, editor, Critical Essays on Anne Tyler, G.K. Hall, 1992.
Excellent all-around source on Tyler; contains reprints of important reviews of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by John Updike and Benjamin De-Mott as well as critical essays by noted Tyler scholars.
Dale Salwak, Anne Tyler as Novelist, University of Iowa Press, 1994.
Collection of seventeen essays focusing on distinctive features of Tyler's novels, including her concem with family life. Includes interviews with Tyler's mother and former teachers.
Caren J. Town, "Rewriting the Family During Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant," in Southern Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 1, fall, 1992, pp. 14-23.
The critic discusses how in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant each major character attempts to construct an ideal fictional family for himself or herself.
Joseph C. Voelker, "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant," in his Art and the Accidental in Anne Tyler, University of Missouri Press, 1989, pp. 125-46.
A psychological study of the characters of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.
Joseph B. Wagner, "Beck Tull: The Absent Presence in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant," in The Fiction of Anne Tyler, edited by Ralph C. Stephens, University Press of Mississippi, 1990, pp. 73-83.
The critic discusses the impact of Beck Tull's desertion on his wife and three children.
Anne R. Zahlan, "Anne Tyler," in Fifty Southern Writers after 1900: A Bio-Bibliographical Source Book, edited by Joseph M. Flora and Robert Baines, Greenwood Press, pp. 491-504.
An excellent overview of Tyler biography, themes, and criticism.