Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

by Anne Tyler

Start Free Trial

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

One of Anne Tyler’s most appreciative reviewers, John Updike, writes that Tyler seems to “accept the belief, extinct save in the South, that families are absolutely, intrinsically interesting.” Updike is right about Tyler’s acceptance, if mistaken about the belief’s near extinction. Her great subject is not sexuality but maternity, not romantic love but ties between parents and children. Far from viewing the family as trivial, she has long been fascinated by the complex feelings of those who are bound to one another by the most profound and intimate physical obligations. Mothers must feed their offspring’s hunger for affection and security; siblings must compete; children must inevitably be hurt by the estrangement of their parents from each other. In Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Tyler illuminates all of these mundane domestic truths, bringing to bear on them her power to make the ordinary seem astonishing, the astonishing seem ordinary.

Her story begins with a mother, Pearl Tull, and takes up, one by one, the lives of Pearl’s three children, and of their children after them. At the novel’s beginning, Pearl is ill; in its last chapter, her family has gathered for a meal after her funeral. Through Pearl’s recollections during her final illness, the reader learns that at thirty she married Beck Tull, a traveling salesman with a social background inferior to her own. Pearl knew from the beginning that Beck was unreliable, a “slangy, loud-voiced salesman peering at his reflection with too much interest when he tied his tie in the mornings, combing his pompadour tall and damp and frilly and then replacing the comb in a shirt pocket full of pencils, pens, ruler, appointment book, and tire gauge, all bearing catchy printed slogans for various firms.” Sure enough, one day, Beck, like so many of Tyler’s characters, embarks on a “thirty-five-year business trip,” leaving Pearl, angry and frightened, to support their three young children.

The oldest child, Cody, is a troublemaker. Pearl does not seem to realize that Cody secretly wonders whether it was something he did that made his father leave, nor does she perceive that Cody is conscious of her favoritism toward his younger brother Ezra. These two worries motivate behavior in Cody that Pearl considers difficult and mean; still, handsome, dark-haired Cody is a hero as well as a villain. His success in business, like his obsession with winning at Monopoly, arises from a need for the absent Beck’s approval. Similarly, the tricks he plays on Ezra—culminating in the theft of Ezra’s finacée—are motivated by Cody’s knowledge that Ezra is Pearl’s favorite.

Ezra, his hair seeming “formed of layers of silk in various shades of yellow and beige,” is indeed a lovable child, “so sweet and clumsy it could break your heart.” His affectionate nature allows him to accomplish effortlessly what Cody cannot achieve by force. Innocent and dreamy, Ezra moves placidly through Tyler’s story, playing his recorder and drawing others to him. He likes people to get along with one another, and as he grows into adulthood, he soothes and supports those he cares about by preparing special food for them: hot milk with honey and cinnamon, a “consoling” pot roast, a gizzard soup that can alter the “whole perception of the day.” After a brief and unsuccessful stint in the Army, he returns to Baltimore to work in and eventually to own the Homesick Restaurant, where total strangers can “’come just like to a family dinner . . . and everything will be solid and wholesome, really homelike.’” Ezra so willingly accepts the events that occur in his life that he does not...

(This entire section contains 2452 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

oppose even the loss of Ruth, the country cook with whom he falls in love, to the fiercely competitive Cody.

Jenny, the youngest of Pearl’s three children, is an orderly and conscientious child, a hard-working perfectionist who earns straight A’s and who, as she enters adolescence, begins a perpetual series of odd diets. Thrice married, she becomes a pediatrician and stepmother to a family of six. Jenny treats all these children generously, but she remains emotionally distant. When not surrounded by children, she experiences “an echoing, weightless feeling, as if she lacked ballast. . . .” Jenny’s preoccupation with thinness provides a thematic counterweight to Ezra’s inclination to nurture others. Her characteristic gesture of covering her mouth with her hand is related to the numb lips she associates with a nightmare about Pearl: “her mother laughed a witch’s shrieking laugh; dragged Jenny out of hiding as the Nazis trampled up the stairs; accused her of sins and crimes that had never crossed Jenny’s mind. Her mother told her, in an informative and considerate tone of voice, that she was raising Jenny to eat her.”

Jenny’s dream reveals that she and her brothers are well aware of their mother’s deep ambivalence toward them. Although Pearl is a strong-willed and efficient woman, she is terrified by the awesome responsibility of supporting her children by herself. In their neediness, they often seem to her like “parasites,” yet she cares for them dutifully, worrying over them through illnesses and enjoying their physicality as babies, their smell and shape, their weight against her shoulder. Like most parents, Pearl does the best she can. Unable to alter either her personality or her circumstances, she sometimes attributes the family’s conflicts to fate: “She feels that everything has been assigned, has been preordained; everyone must play his role.” At other times, she takes the responsibility upon herself: “Pearl believes . . . that her family has failed. . . . There is no one to accept the blame for this but Pearl herself, who raised these children single-handed and did make mistakes. . . .” Her mistakes are serious ones—a fierce protectiveness that keeps her children from having friends, inexplicable and violent rages, physical abuse. Pearl’s inept mothering leads to an apparently endless succession of emotional difficulties for her children and grandchildren. When Jenny finds herself abusing her own daughter, she asks herself, “Was this what it came to—that you never could escape? That certain things were doomed to continue, generation after generation?”

The question Jenny raises is central to the novel. If Tyler’s subject here is the family, her themes revolve around the intricately connected issues of inevitability and responsibility. Pearl’s vacillation between blaming fate and blaming herself suggests that Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant explores questions about causality that are no less baffling for being so familiar. What makes families unhappy? Can people change, or must they remain forever in the clutches of the neuroses they have inherited? Is human behavior inevitable, or can human choices affect it? Does character create circumstances, or do circumstances create character? In the treatment of such heavy thematic material, a writer less accomplished than Tyler might well have lapsed into abstractions or descended to sentimentality, but Tyler never makes a false move. She may put a simple formula into the mouth of a character, as when Jenny remarks that there is “no need to blame adjustment, broken homes, bad parents” for one’s difficulties. “You have to overcome your setbacks,” Jenny says; “You can’t take them too much to heart.” The cost of Jenny’s adjustment, however, is thrown into relief by her stepson Slevin who, seeing a photograph of Jenny as a child, observes that she looks like the victim of a concentration camp. Slevin, whose own mother has left him, angrily rejects the idea that people can move beyond the emotional damage done to them by their parents. In considering this damage, Tyler is wise enough not to offer either her characters or her readers easy platitudes or quick assignments of blame. Instead, by dropping the detail that Pearl has requested as her funeral hymn a number called “We’ll Understand It All By and By,” Tyler insists on the painful, mysterious complexities of the relations between parents and children.

Among these complexities, and integral to the workings of Tyler’s novel, are her characters’ attitudes toward eating. As Cody observes midway through the novel, food has an “inexplicable, loaded meaning” in all their lives. Pearl is a “nonfeeder.” On the literal level, her preparations for meals consist mainly of opening cans, and her terrible rages against her children most often take place at the dinner table. Less literally, food represents love. Because Pearl “disapprove[s] of neediness in people,” she is unable to give her children the psychological nourishment they need. Cody sees that his brother and sister respond differently to this emotional starvation: Ezra becomes a “feeder” who makes friends with his customers and who tries repeatedly to get his family together for dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, while both Jenny and her daughter Becky are afflicted with anorexia nervosa. What is remarkable about Tyler’s handling of this food motif is that it is worked unobtrusively into the texture of the story, yet it accumulates enormous force. The same artlessness characterizes the novel’s repeated references to scars and wounds. Pearl has herself been hurt; on her forehead she bears a scar that looks like a crease, “the mark of a childhood accident.” An acquaintance of the Tull children also has a mark on his forehead, “as deep as if someone has pressed an ax blade there.” When Beck leaves, Pearl becomes a wound, “a deep, hollow hole, surrounded by shreds of her former self.” These and other details subtly and masterfully reinforce the novel’s theme of emotional damage.

The damage is literal as well as symbolic. Although the line of Tyler’s narrative obscures the motivation for Beck Tull’s departure, it is apparently precipitated by a bizarre incident which occurs when the Tulls are on an outing, the only occasion in the novel when the entire family is present. Beck has bought an archery set and has insisted that the family go shooting. Through a series of mishaps, an arrow strikes Pearl, and the infection and allergic reaction that ensue nearly kill her. The arrow incident, one of the most significant events in the Tull family’s collective history, is, like the rest of their story, presented in pieces: one version is told from Pearl’s point of view, a second version concentrates on Cody, a third and fourth explain Ezra’s and Beck’s perceptions of the event. It is not until the reader has heard all four versions that the incident’s significance begins to emerge. Multiple points of view are exactly right for this material. The variety of perspectives demonstrates that events with psychological importance can be seen and interpreted in more than one way, depending on who is doing the seeing and interpreting; further, the multiple points of view realistically conceal and complicate the characters’ motivation. Since each character is presented from all directions, as well as from within, it is impossible for the reader to take sides, to reject one character or make alliance with another. Instead, each must be contemplated fully, and, ultimately, with sympathy. Partly because Tyler stays in the third person, she is able to shift her story’s angle of narration without sacrificing clarity or smoothness; the novel’s exposition is orderly, its transitions are seamless. The apparent effortlessness of the book’s surface belies the rich texture of its underlayers, and the effect of this tension on the reader is immensely satisfying.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is also remarkable for its chronological structure. Tyler arranges the novel’s ten chapters so as to enrich the book’s meaning and intensify its emotional impact. Moving about in time, Pearl dominates the first chapter, Cody the second, Jenny the third, and Ezra the fouth. In chapter 5, the narrative voice becomes more omniscient as Tyler tells the story of how Cody steals Ruth from Ezra; if there is a weakness in the novel, it is the improbability of Ruth’s capitulation. Each of the remaining five chapters is assigned to a single character. Differentiation among the characters’ stories is achieved more by adjustments in content than by alterations in the narrative voice. That voice remains Tyler’s own. As usual, she writes in a matter-of-fact, witty, intimate tone that conveys affection for her characters even while skewering their faults. All the other marks of Tyler’s distinctive style are here too: the familiarity with the cadences of Southern speech; the ironic use of proper names (Pearl’s deathbed is an “everyday, ordinary Posturepedic”); the precise use of simile (a baby’s croupy cough is “like something pulled through tightly packed gravel”) and of metaphor (Barbara Pace serves “as a kind of central switchboard for ninth-grade couples”).

While the stylistic delights of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant recall a number of Tyler’s previous novels, her latest novel most closely resembles in its mood and impact the beautiful and somber Celestial Navigation, published in 1974. Not only is Ezra reminiscent of the artist Jeremy Pauling, but Tyler also explicitly links the two works. Ruth, the woman Ezra loves and Cody marries, stays for a while at Mrs. Pauling’s boardinghouse, and Jeremy himself appears in the background, “a pale, pudgy man [who] stood gazing into an open refrigerator.” In both books, the characters are so flawed that their natural growth is stunted, and yet, precisely because of their imperfections, Ezra, Jenny, Cody, and even Pearl shock the reader with their familiarity. During Pearl’s illness, she has Ezra read to her from a diary she kept seventy years before: “I went out behind the house to weed,” Pearl had written, “and all at once thought, Why I believe that at just this moment I am absolutely happy. . . . 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.” Pearl Tull is not a bad woman. Scarred by the events of her own growing up, left by Beck to fend for herself, she has done her best with her children. As Beck observes at the novel’s conclusion, “My family wasn’t so much . . . but it’s all there really is, in the end.”

Tyler leaves the complicated issue of Pearl’s culpability unresolved because there is no resolving it. Still, it is all too clear that her children are hurt by her inability to feed them as they need to be fed. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is a magnificent novel because it evokes sympathy not only for the children but also for Pearl herself. In this moving book, Anne Tyler has at last articulated a theme worthy of her prodigious stylistic gifts.

Form and Content

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

The strands of the Tulls’ separate stories are woven together and developed through a somewhat complex narrative structure. Although, like William Faulkner in his novel As I Lay Dying (1930), Tyler tells the story through a series of narratives, the structure is not difficult to follow. In each chapter, the reader sees the events described with limited omniscience, as Tyler reveals the consciousness of one person at a time. Consciousness changes only at the beginning of each new chapter. Each separate chapter reveals that character’s individual attitude toward events, both past and present. Each of these chapters also moves the action forward, in general chronologically. This forward movement, combined with time shifts within the chapter, is also very similar to that found in As I Lay Dying. Tyler’s novel begins in 1979, the year of Pearl Cody Tull’s death, moves backward in time to her childhood, to her marriage to Beck and the birth of her children, to Beck’s desertion in 1944, and to various events of the children’s growing up and their adult lives.

The major past event which influences the events and behavior of all remaining members of the family is Beck Tull’s desertion of his family. Everyone in the family is affected by it, and each life is a response to this act. Only a limited reconciliation is possible between Beck and his oldest son, Cody, after Pearl’s death, when Beck returns for the funeral. In running away, Beck is like the conventional roaming hero (similar to the traveling salesman stereotype of Southern fiction) seeking adventure and glamour, but also escape from the responsibilities, confinement, and expectations of family and home. Although Beck is absent, he is always in the memory of those he left behind.

For years, Pearl pretends to her children and neighbors that Beck is on an extended business trip, because she fears the personal humiliation, gossip, and charity of neighbors. Pearl isolates herself and her children. As a single parent without professional training, she is forced to work as a clerk in a grocery store for low wages. Working all day on her feet, she frequently comes home tired, lonely, and frustrated. She becomes bitter, angry, and sometimes cruel and abusive to her children, although what Jenny and Cody remembered as abuse is recalled as far less serious by Ezra.

Pearl’s children, who are fourteen, eleven, and nine when their father abandons the family, are all emotionally affected by his act. Ezra, the middle child, tries to fill the role of nurturer and stays at home, while Cody and Jenny are driven to get away. Ezra offers no resistance to life, preferring to avoid conflict when possible. He never attends college, choosing to manage the Homesick Restaurant. His restaurant provides him a place to act as a surrogate parent to his customers, feeding them with food “made with love.” He continually attempts to organize family dinners, but to no avail; the Tull family never finishes a meal together.

Jenny marries three times and seems unable to be really close to anyone, but she is successful in her work as a pediatrician. Unfortunately, she continues the pattern of family abuse, which she must struggle to overcome. Jenny begins her adulthood with the same obsession with orderliness that her mother had. She even marries a young man who is more obsessed with order than either she or her mother, wanting to get married on a timetable. After leaving him, she abandons order and schedules. Both her home and her pediatric practice are messy and disordered. Left by the second husband, whom she loved (and reliving the pattern of her mother), she marries for a third time, to a man with six children who has been deserted by his wife. She finds some sort of life with him, staying so busy that she has no time for real intimacy.

Cody, the oldest son, is perhaps the most seriously affected. He blames himself for his father’s leaving and is jealous because he senses that Ezra is his mother’s favorite. He emulates his father by becoming a traveling businessman, but he is far more successful than his father. He also takes his family with him wherever he goes. Out of jealousy, he is sadistic toward Ezra, finally to the point of marrying the one woman with whom Ezra has fallen in love, Ruth. This courtship and marriage, motivated by jealousy and revenge, has little chance of success. Cody and Ruth’s son, Luke, eventually provides a link between the generations in the family because Luke loves his grandmother and sees her from a perspective that her children cannot.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Tyler does not write from a feminist perspective, but her novels, especially Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, present issues of importance to women. This novel presents tangled single mother or other parent relationships with children through both humor and the details of domestic realism. The novel deals with the relationship between single parenthood and child abuse, the cycle of that abuse, and the survival strength of Pearl.

Tyler’s characters are presented so realistically that readers recognize themselves and family members when they read her fiction. She presents Pearl with great honesty, stressing her strength to survive as a single mother but also showing how a single mother can become so angry, frustrated, and lonely that she sometimes crosses the line of inappropriate behavior and abuses her children. Although support groups did not yet exist, Pearl would have been too proud and independent to share her anger and needs with anyone. Instead, she becomes more isolated and bitter, forcing isolation on her children as well. The pattern of anger and abuse evidenced by Pearl is carried on by Jenny when she also becomes a single parent. Ironically, she is able to break the pattern only with help from her mother. Jenny continues to divorce and remarry, however, while Pearl remains legally married but alone.

Beck, the missing husband and father, is also presented by Tyler with a degree of sympathy. Pearl Tull, with her passion for order and neatness, her pride and stubbornness, could not have been easy to live with for a man of Beck’s temperament. He never divorces her, and he comes back as a father and grandfather after her death, although the reader suspects that he will not stay long.

Another issue of significance to women that is presented in the novel is the problem of aging in America, which has often been a problem for women because of the disparity in life expectancies for men and women. Tyler presents the ironic distance between how the adult children view their mother (as old, blind, dying, and incompetent) and how Pearl views herself. She likes to look at old photographs, even though she cannot see and has to have Ezra describe them to her. Pearl views herself as young and attractive and still has dreams. Tyler does not judge her characters, but instead offers readers the challenge of reading her novel in the light of the modern family and of making their own moral judgments.

Historical Context

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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.

Literary Style

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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.

Comic Relief
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.

Literary Techniques

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Each chapter in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is, as John Updike noted, as self-contained as a short story. All the characters' points of view are presented separately, and each chapter focuses on one character. The novel begins with Pearl's thoughts on her deathbed and then moves back and forth from the present to the past, ending with Pearl's funeral. This juxtaposition of past and present and variation of point of view allow Tyler to expose the subjectivity of memories that influence one's life and the complexity of character revealed by those memories. For example, Cody remembers a family outing to try an archery set with anger and resentment, particularly toward his father. Beck Tull's version reveals a creditable motive, of providing family fun, that went awry. Thus Beck's actions are presented from two perspectives, and his character is more fully developed.

Tyler's attention to detail and her ability to use it thematically are evident in this novel. An illustration of this technique is Pearl's describing her sense of her children's fading away from her by telling about the changes in the lights left on for them at night — hall lights for them as children, single lights downstairs when they were older — the fading light outside her bedroom door paralleling their lessening dependence on her.

As several critics have pointed out, the humor in this novel is dark humor. The tricks that Cody plays on Ezra, for instance, are funny, but cruel as well.

Literary Precedents

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Tyler regards herself as a Southerner and acknowledges Eudora Welty as an important influence. This novel, like other works by her, is Southern in its emphasis on family. Although many of her novels are set in Baltimore, emphasis on region is more obvious in Searching for Caleb (1976). Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant concerns the way the present can be influenced by past wrongs but does not insist on the inevitability or degree of corruption that one expects in the fiction of Southern writers like Faulkner. One critic has pointed out, however, that the opening scene is reminiscent of the beginning of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying (1930).

The treatment of emotional isolation and longing for affection is similar to that of numerous authors who examine similar themes, including Carson McCullers and Sherwood Anderson. The short-story-like chapters in this novel are certainly similar to the vignettes of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio (1919).

Media Adaptations

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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.

For Further Study
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 Irige, University of Alabama Press, 1990, pp. 251-78.
Feminist reading of Tyler's novels through Accidental Tourist.

Vivian Gornick, "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 Petty, "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 Petty, 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 Home sick Restaurant by John Updike and Benjamin DeMott 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 concern 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 Barnes, Greenwood Press, pp. 491-504.
An excellent overview of Tyler biography, themes, and criticism.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Bail, Paul. Anne Tyler: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. Bail takes a critical look at Tyler’s work. His discussions focus primarily on individual novels, including Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Students and general readers will appreciate the sections on plot, characters, themes, literary devices, historical setting, and point of view. Biographical information is also included.

Christian Science Monitor. July 9, 1982, p. 14.

Croft, Robert W. An Anne Tyler Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. A comprehensive and detailed guide to Tyler’s works, this volume includes biographical material as well as critical pieces on her major novels. Also includes an extensive bibliography and appendices.

Evans, Elizabeth. Anne Tyler. New York: Twayne, 1993. Evans provides a critical and interpretive study of Tyler, with a close reading of her major works, a solid bibliography, and complete notes and references.

Gibson, Mary Ellis. “Family as Fate: The Novels of Anne Tyler.” Southern Literary Journal 15, no. 3 (Fall, 1983): 47-58. Gibson asserts that like many Southern writers, Tyler is obsessed with family, which is presented in its relationship to individual understandings of fate and responsibility.

Jones, Anne G. “Home at Last, and Homesick Again: The Ten Novels of Anne Tyler.” The Hollins Critic 23, no. 2 (April, 1986): 1-14. This article discusses Tyler’s novels as using the metaphor of home and wandering to depict spiritual growth. Jones discusses the Tull family in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant as people who remain stuck in failed family patterns.

Library Journal. CVII, February 15, 1982, p. 476.

Ms. X, June, 1982, p. 75.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVII, March 14, 1982, p. 1.

The New Yorker. LVIII, April 5, 1982, p. 189.

Newsweek. XCIX, April 5, 1982, p. 72.

Petry, Alice H. Critical Essays on Anne Tyler. New York: G. K. Hall, 1992. A collection of interviews, reviews, and articles on Tyler’s writing.

Petry, Alice H. Understanding Ann Tyler. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990. After providing context for Tyler’s fiction in an overview that discusses her work in relation to other authors, Petry then devotes individual chapters to each of Tyler’s books. She discusses in detail the plot of The Accidental Tourist and provides basic interpretations of characters and events.

Saturday Review. IX, March, 1982, p. 62.

Shelton, Frank W. “The Necessary Balance: Distance and Sympathy in the Novels of Anne Tyler.” The Southern Review 20, no. 4 (Fall, 1984): 851-860. This article discusses the influence of Eudora Welty on Tyler in her ability to create and maintain a dual perspective of distance and sympathy for her characters.

Spector, Judith A. “Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant: A Critical Feast.” Style 31 (Summer, 1997): 310-327. Spector examines the novel from a psychosocial perspective and an interpretation based on family systems therapy. She asserts the merits of teaching the novel from this perspective because students understand dysfunctional families.

Stephens, C. Ralph, ed. The Fiction of Anne Tyler. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1990. This collection of essays constitutes an important addition to Tyler scholarship, suggesting directions for future critical inquiry. The collection contains three essays of significance to Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant: Joseph Wagner’s “Beck Tull: ‘The Absent Presence’ ”; Carol Manning’s “Welty, Tyler, and Traveling Salesmen: The Wandering Hero Unhorsed”; and Mary J. Elkins’ “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant: Anne Tyler and the Faulkner Connection.”

Sweeney, Susan E. “Intimate Violence in Anne Tyler’s Fiction: The Clock Winder and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.” The Southern Literary Journal 28 (Spring, 1996): 79-94. Sweeney discusses Tyler’s use of intimate violence in two novels. She asserts that these violent moments are pivotal events and shows Tyler’s development as a writer by comparing the two books.

Time. CXIX, April 5, 1982, p. 76.

Times Literary Supplement. October 29, 1982, p. 1188.

Town, Caren J. “Rewriting the Family During Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.” Southern Quarterly 31, no. 1 (Fall, 1992): 13-23. The article discusses the characters in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, each of whom tries to construct a new family to replace their original, unsatisfactory one.


Critical Essays


Teaching Guide