Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

by Anne Tyler

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Critical Overview

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 636

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).

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Critical Evaluation


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