What happens when two thirtysomething siblings relive the summer reading programs of their youth in an all-out battle of the books? The race is on as they read by the rules and keep tally on their logs to see who will be the ultimate reader by Labor Day 2010.

August 20, 2010

Do You Think You're a Terrible Mother? Feel Better with Anne Tyler!

"Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant" with other books I hope to read. Note the sultriness!

When I was home in June, I stockpiled a few books that I, in my naivete, thought would be "quick reads." One of these was a book that had always seemed tantalizing as a young boy, my mother's 1983 copy of Anne Tyler's "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant." The title practically guarantees comfort. Everyone likes dinner and how could anything unpleasant happen in a book with a word as cozy as "homesick" in the title? Plus, the cover was so alluring in the way that only early 80's cover art can be. A sexy woman's head, her lips slightly parted, hovers over a table, an equally good-looking man's head just off in the shadows. This would be a book where Big Things happen! After the first chapter, I thought I was in for a treat. A spinster marries a slick salesman, has three babies, and then promptly gets deserted. But she picks herself up, gets a job as a grocery store clerk, and proceeds to provide for her family. Familial laughs and tears would surely proceed, right? Right?!!!

Alas, no. Tyler subtly switches perspective and we realize that the mother, besides being the resourceful and loving woman we met in the first chapter, has reservoirs of fear and cruelty she regularly unleashes on her children. This is a book that shows Motherhood is Hard, and not Motherhood is Hard in a Tom Perotta "I-forgot-the-juicebox" kind of way, but in a I'm-So-Overwhelmed-By-Responsibility-I-Whacked-My-Three-Year-Old's-Face-Into-Her-Beatrix-Potter-Plate" kind of way. Needless to say, reading about such an unhappy family was kind of a slog.

Tyler pulls no punches and presents a bunch of people who have never really recovered from their past and probably never will. The kids hurt themselves and each other, periodically achieving periods of grace. I was aware that so many other writers and filmmakers have covered this territory since ("August: Osage County," "Interiors," "Six Feet Under") that I wasn't as entranced with the book as I would have if I had read it when it first came out. But Tyler's writing is beautifully precise and she crafts a humdinger of a closing paragraph. But the promise of the cover (who was that lady supposed to be anyway, 1982 Graphic Designer? Pearl? Her daughter? And if so, who was the dude behind her? Her brother? You're disgusting and terrible at your job) was never achieved and I shall have to hunt elsewhere for my summer escapist fare.

Me reading backstage. I was probably listening to speed-reading tapes.

1 comment:

  1. When has Anne Tyler ever written a feel-good book? Also, "...I wasn't as entranced with the book as I would have if I had read it when it first came out". Yes, I'm sure your 6 1/2 year old self would have had a greater appreciation for the themes presented in DATHR. Pairs well with "The Phantom Tollbooth".