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Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
Submitted by Jean Trounstine (profile)
Title and Author: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
Theme: Through Pearl Tull, her two sons, and her daughter, Tyler takes us into the notion of how families both wound and heal each other. Pearl Tull is on her deathbed when the book begins, and through her eyes, as well as through the eyes of her children, we come to understand why her husband left her, what kind of a mother she was, who her children are, and what ties they each had with Pearl. A great book to use to teach point of view - not in a literary sense, necessarily - but to discuss how events and relationships differ depending on who is telling the story.
Class type: Women
Judge Dever loves to tell a story about how one woman in our class said that Pearl Tull was a really witchy mother, and then with a straight face, the light bulb going off inside her head she said, "just like me." Inevitably, women will identify with Pearl or say that their mother is like Pearl. Some find her to be a mother they admire, while others actually hate her and feel she is responsible for all the problems that the children have. When Judge Dever points out that the kids are all "successful" by the world's standards, with decent jobs, the students still will open up about their perspectives:
"She's a strong woman facing hard times by herself." - Donna
"Married to Beck Tull, a perfectionist with a large ego and a man who felt his family was an albatross around his neck, she had to be strong-willed, but as strong as I found Pearl, she was not a fighter." - Michele
"Pearl had to bring the kids up alone and she knew she made a lot of mistakes and she was even cruel and distant." - Wendy."
Such comments take us into the nature of mothering, and for this reason, I often use this book early on in the semester. Although the chapter progression does need clarifying (because each chapter changes point of view, and that can be confusing to the students if it's not explained before they start reading the book), this is a great book to see who identifies with what character and to learn from each other about how we decide such things. It allows us to see different ways of looking at a character and what importance each places on his or her behaviors, leading us to our perspectives.
One of the women wrote the following when asked to tell what happened in this book:
"This book is about the ups and downs of the Tull family...Cody grew up with a drinking problem; Jenny cared and was close to everyone but her own family; Ezra was a dreamer and Pearl's favorite...I think the turning point was when before Pearl died, she told Ezra to invite everyone in the book, including Beck Tull, the father who left, to the funeral. It was quite a shock when Beck showed up. When Beck poured out his side of the story to Cody, they learned he felt that Pearl drove him away but that he secretly watched him from across the street and knew the kids would be all right."
There are a variety of comments about each character during class discussion, and the conflicting opinions make for a great, and sometimes a heated, conversation. Some of the women hate Cody. Some love him. He's handsome. He's money hungry. He's insecure. He's a mean son of a bitch. He's the most wounded of all the children. He's a survivor. They have the same variety of opinions about Ezra and Jenny. The richness in Tyler's writing and her ability to show us full human beings helps this book remain a classic in my class.
1. What does the book teach us about home? About families?
2. What's the importance of family dinners to the book? Of food and nourishment? How are different characters nourished or hungry?
3. How are each of the characters wounded? How are they healed?
4. Look at all the houses in the book and discuss them and their differences. What do they tell us about the people who live in each? The Baltimore house, Cody's farm, Jenny's house, Ezra's restaurant?
5. Sick for home? Sick of home?
6. Discuss this quote from Art and the Accidental, "The most aching nostalgia is not for home but for home idealized." What is nostalgia?
7. What is the importance of the archery accident to each of the characters? How do they each see it?
8. Will Beck stay for dinner at the end of the book?
Videos (may take a few moments):
Judge Dever (video)