As its title suggests, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is about longing. Its characters yearn for the familiar and the comfortable, the imagined ideal, never known but constantly sought. As a metaphor of this hunger, food is occasionally mentioned throughout the book to suggest its significance in different ways. It is Cody who reflects on “its inexplicable, loaded meaning in people’s lives.” He realizes that his mother’s attitude toward food revealed her disapproval of neediness, and he recalls how family arguments usually started at the dinner table.
The meanings of the theme are revealed primarily in dialogue, each person speaking naturally in his own characteristic voice rather than in interior monologues. Self-deception, pretense, misery, humor, courage, tolerance, impatience—all are present, and most of all in Pearl, who at the end of her life is still discovering her children and trying to understand them. Finally, she has learned to drift, and surprisingly but satisfyingly, her memories are pleasant ones, perfect in their simplicity and ordinariness—a summer wind, the weight of a sleeping baby, the privacy of walking in the rain under one’s own umbrella, a country auction, a day on “sunlit sand.”