Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Family and Community in Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Family and Community in Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

Article excerpt

At eighty-five, Pearl Tull is blind and dying. She drifts through dreams and recollections, sliding back and forth through time as she remembers the grandfather who smelled like mothballs, the aunts scented with pomade and lavender water. Pearl even recalls her cousin Bertha, who carried a bottle of crystals to ward off fainting spells. But most of all, Pearl remembers her children. She recalls Cody, her eldest, as always being a troublemaker, a "difficult baby" (3). Ezra, her second child, was "so sweet and clumsy it could break your heart" (4). And Jenny, "the girl," in Pearl's mind was a kind of luxury (4). Also, Pearl realizes that she was "an angry sort of mother" (19). Deserted by her husband, Pearl had always felt "continually on edge ... too burdened ... too alone" in raising her children (19). She considered her children to be inept in handling everyday concerns, and she regarded their incompetence with indulgent scorn. Even now on her deathbed she calls them "duckers and dodgers" (33). However, as the dying Pearl slips in and out of consciousness, she dreams of her three young children at the beach, laughing and running towards her across sunlit sand. The pain and anger of their troubled relationships are all but forgotten.

Pearl's recollections in Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant mirror the ambivalence of feeling that comes with the birth of children and follows a mother even unto death. They suggest emotions common to many women as they grapple with maternal roles and struggle to give their children earnest measures of love and acceptance. However, Pearl's recollections represent just one perspective, a singular look at a fragmented and troubled family. In Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Tyler examines many facets of family relationships, particularly as they evolve between mother and child, fester between siblings, and extend into the world beyond. In life, as in Tyler's novel, the family is the base from which the individual moves into society and acquires a sense of community. The community serves in turn as an enlarged version of the family, a larger arena for each person to act out the same conflicts, struggles, hopes, and dreams as he did in his family of origin. However troubled and strained relationships may be, family and community represent "home," and, for better or worse, the individual must come to terms with this. In Tyler's novel these things are no less true. Depicting the dynamics of the Tull family with a shrewd and keen insight, Tyler carefully explores its members' connections to the past, to the community, and with each other.

In creating the eccentric Tulls, Tyler establishes her own connections while writing out of a literary tradition that leaves few Southern writers unaffected. In particular, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant shares marked similarities in the portrayal of family and community with William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and, to a lesser extent, Carson McCullers' The Ballad of the Sad Cafe. As I Lay Dying opens with the impending death of Addie Bundren and incorporates several points of view into the telling of the story. Chapters of the novel are told by Addie, her children, her husband, and members of the community, as they recount their relationships with her. While Addie's family embarks on a funeral journey of grotesque proportions, each member also travels on a disquieting inner journey, one that reveals the utter loneliness at the heart of the Bundren family.

Similarly, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant opens at the bedside of the dying Pearl Tull as she recalls her memories as a young wife and mother. Succeeding chapters are told from different points of view as Pearl's children explore their troubled relationships with their mother and with each other. Years before, Pearl and her children had been abandoned by her husband, Beck Tull. This event had plunged the family into a quiet, swirling darkness that was frequently punctuated by hatred and violence. …

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