When Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant was published in 1982, reviewers welcomed it as the best book Anne Tyler had written thus far. Critics were especially delighted at Tyler’s realist portrayal of family life, including many of the ways in which she portrayed the Tull family as dysfunctional, and the depth of her character portrayals in general. Some, however, objected to the book’s happy ending, in which it seems that the Tull family may finally get through an entire meal. The book was nominated in 1983 for a Pulitzer Prize and for the National Book Critics Circle award, and it won a Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
Many critics discuss the multiple meanings of the word “homesick,” especially focusing on its meanings of longing for home and being sick of home. Pearl, as a single parent, tries to make a home for her family. At the same time, however, she is too closely connected to home. She has no friends in the Baltimore neighborhood in which she lives. She refuses to make friends with any of the other women there. She wears a hat when she works at Sweeney Brothers to discourage any of the women shopping there from being friendly with her and to imply that she is just there temporarily, even though she works there for many years. She has only one friend, who visits her only once. When her son Cody buys Pearl a bus ticket so she can visit her friend, she refuses it because, she says, the visit would require her to miss Ezra’s birthday.
Cody leaves home and hardly ever visits. He buys a house and some land outside Baltimore, intending to live there and have many children, but, when he does get married, he lets the house fall into ruin. Instead, he moves his family from place to place, depending on where he is working. He repeatedly asserts that his mother treated him terribly, insisting that she was always angry. Nonetheless, he buys her the house she lives in and sees that she is cared for. When Pearl dies, Cody becomes very defensive with Beck for leaving her. His homesickness involves both love and hate for his home. He ironically spends most of his life trying to win his mother’s love, something he has all along.
Jenny leaves home to go to college and medical school in Pennsylvania, but she ends up practicing medicine in Baltimore and living not too far from her mother. Her feelings for her mother change when her mother cares for her during her breakdown. The woman she remembers as being so vicious turns out to be gentle and caring. Jenny eventually learns...
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