Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant begins with Pearl Cody Tull’s deathbed reflections and ends with her funeral. Like Searching for Caleb, this novel revolves around an unconventional family in which the mother is a central figure. While the source of Justine’s energy is that of her husband, whom she imitates and even exceeds, the source of Pearl’s is her misery at having been unaccountably deserted by the husband whom she dearly loved. Pearl’s excesses come not from joy in freedom but from anger because she is imprisoned in a life she did not choose.
At thirty, Pearl had been facing spinsterhood. Then she met a loud, brash salesman six years her junior who admired her ladylike behavior and had the power to persuade her that anything in the world was possible. Beck Tull and Pearl hastened into marriage. Eventually, they had three children. When the oldest was entering his teens, Beck disappeared, and it was then that Pearl became almost demented. Somehow she could never tell the children that Beck was never coming back. Trapped in her lie, overburdened by responsibility, and often financially desperate, she would suddenly be overcome by rage, striking out at the very children she had so desired.
Because of their mother’s peculiarities, the Tull children are isolated from the community; however, unlike the eccentric Pecks in Searching for Caleb, they cannot take delight in their own independence. Unfortunately, because no one ever explains to them either their father’s absence or their mother’s furies, they come to see life as dangerous and irrational, and as they grow to adulthood, in different ways they...
(The entire section is 681 words.)
Pearl Tull, age eighty-six, lies dying as the book opens, and her mind ranges, chronologically disconnected, over her entire life. Through her memories, reflections, dreams, and occasional brief conversations with her son Ezra, she recalls, but not in chronological order, Beck Tull’s courtship just as she was beginning to accept spinsterhood, their impulsive wedding, the births of their three children, Beck’s totally unexpected announcement that he was leaving her, the various stages of the children’s growing up, their “trademark flaws,” her own failings, and her surprised realization of approaching death.
As she “skids through time,” she recalls some of the incidents that form the “plotlessness of life”; these small events include a visit to the beach and an outing in the country during which one of the boys (it is never certain which one) accidentally shoots an arrow at her and wounds her slightly. By the time this first chapter ends, the reader knows what Pearl and the members of her family are like and much about the kind of lives they have led.
Each of the succeeding nine chapters has as its heading a phrase taken from the chapter itself, developing and expanding the story that has been brilliantly suggested in the first chapter, entitled “Something You Should Know.” A particular member of the family is the central figure of each chapter: The focus is on Cody in chapters 2, 5, and 10; Jenny’s story is told primarily in chapters 3 and 7; Ezra is the main subject of chapters 4 and 9; Pearl is again the central figure in chapter 6; and Luke, Cody’s son, the only member of the third generation to have a chapter of his own, adds a different dimension in chapter 8.
The story is as...
(The entire section is 711 words.)