By Anne Tyler
My first taste of a contemporary American great. The initial impressions are of a certain quaintness, a chronicle of everydayness turned slightly crooked, of a peculiar sense of irony, wicked almost. It’s an interesting read, one that makes me want to explore further.
Tyler thinks this is her best work (though her most famous is certainly, The Accidental Tourist that was made into a Hollywood movie) and it is a superbly crafted one. The Homesick Restaurant is what Pearl Tull’s second son Ezra runs in American suburbia. It is where an ill-ordered and messy family gather every once in a while for family meals that never get completed. Pearl is a memorable character, proud and prickly, left to fend for 3 children when her salesman husband ups and leaves. She is not a perfect mother and her foibles leave their mark on her children, each of whom grows up to flawed adulthood. Cody the oldest is convinced that his younger brother Ezra is his mother’s favourite and lives his life in competition with him for everyone’s affections. Ezra is the calm saint, trying to get the family to act like one, yet with an unaware ‘ungood’ side to him. And Jenny is the beautiful and erratic youngest, whose irregularity is spawned by her mother’s strict and mostly irrational rules of behaviour. There are some intense and sharp moments in the book, and it takes the final dinner at the Homesick restaurant at Pearl’s funeral to get the complete family (now including the absent father) to finally finish a meal.
There is a Jane Austen-esque quality to Tyler. With no grand themes or plot lines, characters in this novel live ordinary mundane lives spiked with endearing eccentricities. That seems to be Tyler’s calling card – making the everydayness of life worth delving deeper into.