Baltimore, Maryland (Take Two)

My posts are becoming fewer and farther between, but don’t worry, I haven’t abandoned my blog as a lost cause. I spent a crazy week in Sturgis, South Dakota working eleven or twelve-hour shifts as a waitress, and now that I’m back (and eating at least a thousand calories a day again), I feel rested, rejuvenated, and ready to write.

Where are we today? It’s a familiar city; we’ve been there before. And, oddly enough, our “tour guide” is the same as on our previous stop: Anne Tyler. On our first trip to Baltimore, we experienced Macon Leary’s maze of coping mechanisms, but today, we focus on the inner workings of Pearl Tull and her three children, Cody, Ezra, and Jenny, in the novel Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.

A synopsis:

Pearl has almost given up hope of marrying a nice young man, and begins to resign herself to being a spinster aunt when she meets Beck Tull and is swept off her feet. The couple marry and soon are parents to Cody. Pearl is terrified of losing him and has more children as insurance against losing the family she cherishes. Beck and Pearl begin to drift apart, and finally, Beck admits to Pearl that he is leaving her and the children. Pearl has lost a piece of her precious family, and in a desperate attempt to secure what she has left, she never tells her children that their father is gone. Instead, she bottles up her frustration and sadness, lashing out at her children when she perceives any hint of “disloyalty” in them. Cody, Ezra, and Jenny grow up dealing with abandonment and abuse, and reenact their childhoods with those close to them.

Anne Tyler’s masterful approach to revealing 20th century issues in her literature is something I appreciate. There’s nothing vulgar in her writing, instead it tugs at your heart and envelops you in the complex emotions of the characters. I will admit that The Accidental Tourist wasn’t my favorite. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant took painful realities to a new level for me – a level on which I connected with what Anne Tyler was trying to say. I think if a book moves so far as to make me cry, it’s worth reading.

My major paper for 20th Century American Literature was written on the destructive patterns found in the characters of this novel. I mentioned abandonment and abuse in my synopsis, but the destructive patterns of the characters go beyond what they do to others. In order to hurt others, you must have been hurt yourself. Cody, Ezra, and Jenny all hurt themselves physically and mentally, whether or not they knew it, and Pearl also inflicts pain on herself, which ends up spilling out on her children. Not that Pearl should take all the blame for her children’s suffering. Beck also causes pain to his children by being absent when they needed him. It just happened that they saw the suffering inflicted on them by their mother, as well as felt it.

“Cody recalls how as a child, he saw Pearl for what she was not” (Eckard). To him, Pearl had been a cruel master, so different from the mothers of his friends. The reader hears Cody’s longing for normalcy at home expressed in thought: “What he wouldn’t have given to have a mother who acted like other mothers!” (Tyler) He sought love, compassion, and tenderness from his mother, natural desires one would say, but for Pearl, those were not natural to give. What the reader sees is what Cody cannot, “like his mother, Cody is prone to violent rages” (Gibson 50). Through the glimpses the reader receives of his childhood, it becomes clear to the reader that the eldest child was troubled. Cody describes himself as “ragged, dirty, unloved… with failing grades and a U in deportment” (Tyler). He made trouble in the community, breaking streetlights and stealing, not because this was how his violence showed itself, but because it was the only way he could get his mother to pay attention to him. Cody’s violent rages came about after people passed him up in favor of his brother just as Pearl had been passed up by so many suitors. Cody learned from his mother how to react to neglect and desertion, and unfortunately, he was faced with it daily as women’s gazes drifted past him to lock onto Ezra.

This is just a sample of how Tyler shows the negative effects of broken homes, which exploded during the late 20th century and continue to cause issues in modern society. I’m glad that I chose this book for my final novel. I think it gives a personal, poignant picture of what happens in the hearts of a family that is struggling.

I loved Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. From hearing what my classmates had to say about other Anne Tyler novels, this contains some different themes and situations than are common to many of her novels. In addition, Tyler kept a bit of a twist for the end.

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