Review: “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant” by Anne Tyler

Thumbs up for Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler. Literature.

By all rights I should have hated this book: modern American family dramas being #2 on my “nope” list. So I suppose it’s testament to Anne Tyler’s skills that I picked it up and stayed with it. The structure–discovery of events via the points of view of different characters, who focus on different things–was pleasingly handled. But I have reservations. Her characters are memorable, but the insights about their humanity hum just on the side of cliché (or dip into it). The story, too, was often predictable–I had the continual sense of “I’ve seen this movie before.” And yet, it never failed to engage me. This may be a case of a book being a stellar example of a genre I dislike, so my criticisms should be taken with a grain of salt.

While she framed her queries (acting not so slow-witted as to put him off, but still in need of assistance), Harley listened and stripped a grass blade. He wore heavy, dressy shoes that seemed out of place on the bedspread. In his probing hands, the grass blade took on the look of a scientific experiment. He answered her levelly, with no question marks after his sentences; he took it for granted that she would understand him. Which she did, in fact, and would have even if she hadn’t known her subject ahead of time. His logic proceeded steadily from A to B to C. In his slowness and his thoroughness, he reminded her of Ezra–though otherwise, how different they were! When he finished, he asked if everything was clear now. “Yes, thank you,” she said, and he nodded and rose to go. Was that it? She rose too, and felt suddenly dizzy–not from standing, she believed, but from love. He had actually managed to bowl her over. She wondered what he would do if she threw her arms around him and collapsed against him, laid her face on his white, white chest, burned her cheek on his scientific medal. Instead she asked, “Will you help me fold the bedspread, please?” He bent to lift one end, and she lifted the other. They advanced. He gave his end to her and the soberly brushed off every wisp of grass, every flower petal and grain of pollen, from his side of the spread. After that he took the spread back again, evidently assuming that she would brush off her side. She looked up into his face. He stepped forward, flipped the spread around him like a hooded cloak, and wrapped her inside its darkness and kissed her. His glasses knocked against her nose. It was an unskillful kiss anyhow, too abrupt, and she couldn’t help imaging the picture they made–a blue chenille pillar in the middle of the campus, a twin-sized mummy. She laughed. He dropped the spread and turned on his heel and walked off very fast. A plume of hair bobbed on the back of his head like a rooster’s tail.

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