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“Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant” is widely regarded as Anne Tyler’s breakout novel. In it, the Pulitzer Prize-winner tells the story of the Tull family. At its center is Pearl. Abandoned by her husband, she is left to raise three children on her own in 1940s Baltimore. Pearl’s love for her family is fierce, but she is given to abusive rages. The novel skims through time and multiple points of view to paint a complicated portrait of family love and dysfunction.
- Rachel Louise Snyder Professor of creative writing and journalism at American University; author of "Fugitive Denim" and the novel "What We've Lost Is Nothing."
- Laura Lippman Author of sixteen novels; former reporter at The Baltimore Sun; winner of numerous writing awards including the Edgar award for best mystery.
- Kevin Roy Associate professor of family science, University of Maryland
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. It's the day before Thanksgiving, so for this month's "Readers' Review," we turn our attention to family. For five decades, Anne Tyler's stories have explored the complex relationship between spouses, siblings, parents and children. In her ninth novel, "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant," she introduces us to the Tulls. A controlling mother, an absent father, and three children struggling to establish a sense of family in the wake of their own turbulent childhoods.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for the discussion, novelist Laura Lippman. Kevin Roy of the University of Maryland and author and journalist Rachel Louise Snyder. I'm sure many of you have read this novel, but even if you haven't, feel free to join us by phone. 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Well, welcome to all of you and happy day before Thanksgiving.
MS. RACHEL LOUISE SNYDERIt's great to be here.
MR. KEVIN ROYWonderful to be here.
MS. LAURA LIPPMANThank you for having us.
REHMGood to see you. You know, the first page of this book tells us that the central character is dying. So, we know we're going to get her reflections and I found this book so powerful in its rendition of family. Certainly dysfunctional family, but perhaps all families are exactly dysfunctional in very different ways. But Laura Lippman, read for us the passage on page 22 where Pearl talks about her children.
LIPPMANSomething was wrong with him. Something was wrong with all of her children. They were so frustrating, likeable, attractive people, the three of them, but closed off from her in some perverse way that she couldn't quite put her finger on. And she sensed a kind of trademark flaw in each of their lives. Cody was prone to unreasonable rages. Jenny was so flippant. Ezra hadn't really lived up to his potential. He ran a restaurant on St. Paul Street, not at all what she had planned for him.
LIPPMANShe wondered if her children blamed her for something. Sitting close at family gatherings with the spouses and offspring slightly apart, non-members forever. They tended to recall only poverty and loneliness. Toys she couldn't afford for them, parties where they weren't invited. Cody, in particular, referred constantly to Pearl's short temper, displaying it against a background of stunned childish faces so sad and bewildered that Pearl herself hardly recognized them. Honestly, she thought, wasn't there some statute of limitations here?
LIPPMANWhen was he going to absolve her? He was middle aged. He had no business holding her responsible anymore. And Beck, well, he was still alive, if it mattered. By now, he'd be old. She would bet he'd aged poorly. She would bet he'd wear a toupee. Or false teeth too white and regular. Or some flowing, youthful hairdo that made him look ridiculous. His ties would be too colorful and his suits too bold a plaid. What had she ever seen in him? She chewed the insides of her lips. Her one mistake, a simple error in judgment. It should not have had such far reaching effects. You would think that life could be a little more forgiving.
REHMLaura Lippman, reading from Anne Tyler's book, "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant." Kevin Roy, was Beck the primary mistake that Pearl made?
ROYIt sure seems like he was the beginning of, you know, where she draws it all back to. She says, this is where it all started. And she said it was her one accomplishment in life, was to get her kids through that, you know, absence of him. I think, from Pearl's perspective, that might have been the case. I think, as you see over time, as she reflects and her kids reflect, there's a lot more there that Beck takes on a meaning that perhaps -- it wasn't there in the 40s when he left.
REHMWhy was Beck attracted to Pearl in the beginning?
ROYThat's interesting. She was a lot older than him. He did have -- he had this kind of, you know, very suave presence, right?
ROYAnd that's why she was attracted to him.
ROYIt's interesting to speculate why he was attracted to her. Maybe she was stable, she had this sense of being someone you could have a family with. And he could really rely on to kind of pull him through probably the rest of his life.
REHMAnd yet, Rachel, he leaves when the kids are quite young, just walks out the door.
SNYDERIt's hard to imagine, it's so hard to imagine. And, you know, it speaks to her level of craftsmanship, because as a parent, I just think, you know, how could you that and never come back? And it just shatters the family in a way. And the thing that's interesting about it is Pearl's reaction, which is complete disassociation, right? This isn't happening. La la la, you know?
REHMAnd she keeps telling the kids that their father is off on a sales trip. A sales trip that lasts 35 years? I mean, how can this be?
SNYDERMaybe he sold an entire country. It takes a while. It was shocking, shocking that she can get away with it, and at some point, the kids clue in. And it's interesting how that unwraps in the novel, because you don't find out until later, maybe a third of the way through the book that they actually knew that he wasn't coming back. And so they all sort of collectively had a tacit agreement not to discuss it.
REHMI found some of the most painful scenes in this book, Laura Lippman, to be those when Pearl just lost it and took it out on those kids.
LIPPMANIt's terrifically painful, and it's even more painful when you see that behavior repeat itself through Jenny as a young, single mother.
LIPPMANJenny being her daughter who also finds herself on her own with a child. Not in a, you know, in a circumstance that she hadn't foreseen. I first read this book either the year it came out or the year after, when I was in my 20s. And I re-read it for this discussion and I'm now in my 50s, but also the daughter of a young child.
REHMMother of a young child.
LIPPMANYeah, the mother of a young child. Sorry. And the experiences were so different. And the way I came to the text, as a mother, as someone who had lived a lot more, really changed the book. I remember I was speaking to Kevin briefly outside, and I said, the first time I read this, I identified with the children, although the children are more of my parents' generation. But, like, I knew what it was like to be someone's child and to rebel against it and to have your differences and to have this necessary distance at some point in your adult life.
LIPPMANIn which you have to go out on your own and be yourself and then you can come home again. And this time, reading about Pearl's frustration, and I think, there's so much genius in Anne Tyler, but part of this is that she is not portrayed monstrously. It's terrible. You feel everyone in those scenes. You feel Pearl's frustration, her concern, her sense of being overmatched. And the scene that really brought it home for me is actually a very quiet scene in which Cody, the oldest brother, has played yet another trick on Ezra. He's always trying to show Ezra up.
LIPPMANAnd he's gone to great lengths to create these fake, these photographs in which it looks like Ezra has passed out from drinking. And, you know, he's so clever that his mother is the one that goes to pick them up at the drug store, or wherever they've been developed. And she comes home and she has this really naked, exposed moment in which she talks to Cody, almost as if he's an adult, for the first time. And she is so devastated to find out that she has made this confession after being tricked.
LIPPMANAnd it does not -- I think in some writer's hands, this would be a more sentimental huggy moment where Cody sees everything from his mom's point of view and she realizes how much she's ask -- instead, you just have this terribly sad moment of Pearl resenting him because, in her mind, he's tricked her into showing how weak and fragile she is inside.
REHMYou know, that scene was fascinating to me, because until the very end of the book, it was the one moment Cody was honest, by confessing that he had created this scenario and that as Ezra, his brother, his younger brother, had not really passed out from alcohol. That he, Cody, had tricked him, and tried to frame him in his mother's eyes, because Cody was jealous. Cody believed that Ezra was the favorite and wanted to do everything he could disabuse his mother of, pardon me, the notion that Ezra was her angel.
REHMAnd it is with Ezra at the opening of the book that Pearl is dying. We're going to take a short break. I hope you'll join us. 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, for our Readers' Review this month we've chosen Ann Tyler's New York Times Best Seller "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant." Here with me, Rachel Louis Snyder. She's professor of creative writing and journalism at the American University. She's author of "Fugitive Denim" and the novel "What We've Lost is Nothing." Kevin Roy, associate professor in department of family science at the University of Maryland. And Laura Lippman. She's author of 16 novels, former reporter at the Baltimore Sun. Her new novel "Hush, Hush" will be released in February, 2015.
REHMAnd you can send us an email to drshow.org. And if you've read the book and want to share your thoughts, you can do so on Twitter with the hash tag drreads. But do give us a call as well, 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And I must say, Laura Lippman talked about the fact that she had read this in her 20's. You too, for you, Rachel, the second time.
SNYDERThat's right. I read it when it first came out. I read actually a number of her novels. And she -- you know, I was an aspiring writer as a teenager, even younger than a teenager. And so for me people like Anne Tyler and Sue Miller and -- they were accessible, in a way, to me as a young person. But as Laura said, I had a very different experience reading it, having only lived life as someone's child up to that point as opposed to now. You know, I've been both child and parent.
SNYDERBut the thing that I so appreciate about her writing is that, you know, she's not a stylist in the way that I would define somebody like Michael Andage (sp?) who is a stylist whose name doesn't have to appear on his work for you to know it's his, or Annie Proulx or somebody like that. She really kind of disappears inside the writing itself. And I think it speaks to the power of her language and her absolute ability to burrow so deeply inside of a character.
REHMTell me, Kevin Roy, what you thought of Cody and tell us about Cody.
ROYI think Cody is fascinating. We were talking off air about, you know, who's our favorite character. And Cody, for me, clearly is. I was, you know, put off by him repeatedly in the book but I feel that at the beginning and really at the end he kind of -- there's a journey in his character, I really feel like. When he meets his father at the end certain things click. And it was kind of very pat things that he realized at the end, even when his father said, I'm proud of you, and this was -- he felt like I've been living all my life for this? And that was it.
ROYAnd I thought how much of that is a lynchpin for him, that little switch that's clicked off and how much of his character is kind of, you know, coming from that, wanting to hear the pride in his father's voice about him. And I also think that it's interesting the timing at which Beck left and the different ages of the kids really made...
REHMBeck being the father.
ROYRight -- really made a difference. And he was the oldest. And I think the father's departure had a different effect on him than the other siblings. And so the timing of that I think is important.
REHMIt was so interesting to me how Cody's jealousy of his brother Ezra manifested itself. How did you see it, Laura?
LIPPMANWell, I'm obsessed with the scene in which Cody shoots an arrow that ends up lodging itself into his mother's shoulder. It's a story that is in the novel three times. First from Pearl's point of view then from Cody's point of view and then it is the last image in the novel as something that Cody saw at that moment, something that I'm not sure that he did see but he believes now, as an adult man, that that is something he saw that day.
LIPPMANSo, you know, Cody's anger and resentment of his brother Ezra predates their father leaving. I came out of the novel feeling that Cody was just innately angry. That if it had not been Ezra, there would've been another object of his anger, another object of resentment. But at the same time he fascinates me because I think he's a good father to Luke. I think he actually does a pretty good job by his son...
REHMHe's a pretty darn jealous father.
LIPPMANHe is. He doesn't ever transcend that part of his nature. He steals his brother's girlfriend but he's a good husband for the most part.
REHMOh, I can totally disagree. Oh, my gosh.
SNYDERHe's a real dreamboat.
REHMOh, my gosh.
LIPPMANOh, I mean...
SNYDERWho wouldn't want him?
LIPPMANHe's difficult but he -- it's in a marriage that lasts. And I think it's working for both people.
REHMHe doesn't even -- he doesn't give two cents about her.
SNYDERNo. I think it works for neither one of them actually. I find him fabulous as a character. And I resent the idea that characters have to be likeable. Like, this is what I sort of don't like about Ezra. He's too milk toast for me.
SNYDEROh, poor Ezra. I know. I mean, of course he's the guy you want to have children with and grow old with but, you know, Cody's the one you go clubbing with.
REHMWell, I'll tell you one thing. The fact that Cody -- let me put it this way. Who shot the arrow that indeed ended up in the mother's shoulder?
LIPPMANHaving re-read that scene multiple, multiple times now, I believe that Ezra is to blame. Cody shoots the arrow but Ezra tackles him. Cody is standing there. He's doing something horrible. He's doing something indefensible that's very dangerous which is pretending to aim the arrow at Ezra. He's also pretended to aim it at other places, perhaps at his father, but not at his mother. He does not aim that arrow at his mother. She's not even in his line of sight.
LIPPMANLater when he has the memory that she's gathering a bouquet, that's not in the way he first tells the story.
LIPPMANSo it's not something that's been told to him. Ezra tackles him. He goes to the ground...
REHMBecause why does he tackle him?
LIPPMANBecause he's aiming an arrow at Ezra.
LIPPMANI mean, it is dangerous, it's indefensible but he is not -- he has no intention, that we see, of letting go.
REHMBut he then blames Ezra.
LIPPMANHe's not wrong.
REHMWell, I don't know.
LIPPMANHe's not wrong.
SNYDERI would say that they share equal responsibility, but perhaps we should ask the familials at colleges who is the one to blame?
ROYSee, that's the big question. I mean, who is the one to blame? I'm not sure either anymore. I think what this captures, that era to me represents the kind of conflict between them that ultimately kind of lodges itself in their mom. Whether...
LIPPMANExactly, she blames Beck.
REHM...because Beck leaves and he goes off on a sales trip. She's finally taken to the hospital. She is on the mend but then the infection begins to fester. And, oh my gosh, I mean, I just saw that as so much of Cody's misbehavior. And of course it results in a terrible accident. He's aiming it at everybody. He'd like to get rid of Ezra in his heart and he does so by stealing his girlfriend.
SNYDERRight. Yeah, but he also lives in a kind of purgatory for that because he's terribly unhappy for the entirety of his life with her. And she's unhappy and Ezra's unhappy. I mean, it's a devastating folly that he's engaged in with her.
ROYAnd what does it say, that the longest standing marriage in the book is between Cody and Ruth, Ezra's former girlfriend.
REHMWhat do you think it says?
ROYNot Beck and Pearl, not Jenny who's had, you know, however many husbands...
ROYSo -- and, you know, there are times when we judge that and say they're unhappy and they're clinging to each other and they're -- but Ruth is clearly a different person at the end than she was when she met Ezra too. So I think there's a lot more to Cody than meets the eye.
LIPPMANI think that Ruth made -- it's not the best choice, it's not the ideal choice but if she was going to be with one of those two men I think she might've made the better choice. And she does say, by the way, it's a really interesting scene in which Cody and Ruth have to sort of come clean to Ezra about what's going on, what's happened. And Ruth keeps saying, it just happened. No one planned this. And the reader of course is thinking, oh no, someone planned it.
REHMOh, you bet.
LIPPMANSomeone very definitely planned it.
REHMSomebody very clearly planned it.
LIPPMANBut, you know, this is so much a book about the stories that people and families tell themselves that explain everything about the family. So that is Ruth's story. Ruth will never know what the reader knows in its entirety. And Ruth will always believe, I think, it just happened which is a very romantic story, and puts this somewhat plain, unsophisticated young woman at the heart of something very thrilling and exciting.
LIPPMANAnd, oh gosh, when she walks to the train on her high heels and asks if there's going to be an eating car and all she wants to do -- my heart just goes -- Ruth is one of those secondary characters we don't see the world through her point of view really. But my -- that may -- she may, in fact, be my favorite character in the book. There's something -- there are always, like, shadow novels.
LIPPMANLike, you know, there's, like, a whole novel about Beck. I'm sure it's an interesting novel or a good novel, but there is the story of Beck's life as well. And there are a lot of characters. Mrs. Scarlotti (sp?) is another one.
REHMIndeed. Mrs. Scarlotti who owns the restaurant in which Ezra works. She becomes ill. Ezra has to take charge of the restaurant. Mrs. Scarlotti in the end leaves that restaurant to Ezra who begins making some very creative changes to the restaurant. He doesn't inform Mrs. Scarlotti while she's ill that he's doing this. But any event, the restaurant becomes his life. He never leaves his mother's home. And that's sad in the end. Let's open the phones here. Let's go first to Brenda in San Antonio, Texas. Hi there.
BRENDAGood morning, Diane.
BRENDAThank you for taking the call.
BRENDAI've enjoyed your show for a long time...
BRENDA...and when I heard the opening remarks and the passage being read, I just felt I had to call. I haven't read the book, I confess, but I -- it is now on my to-do list.
BRENDAI'm the oldest of five siblings. My father left when I was ten years old. My mother was a broken woman who struggled to survive and, you know, keep us altogether. And anyway just listening -- it was as if someone had been, you know, kind of peaking into the windows of my life at the beginning reading. And so I thank you for the subject matter and the discussion.
REHMBrenda, tell me how you are now. Are you married with your own family?
BRENDAWell, I am but, you know, more than once married. I'm 60 years old. And only in the last, well say, ten years have I come to understand a little bit more about my mother and the choices she made. She struggled for a long time. We were on welfare. If it hadn't been for her efforts, we probably would've gone, you know, in four different directions. But there was a lot of underlying rage about his departure, and I guess you'd call it rejection. And some of her -- some of it came out in, you know, painful ways.
BRENDAAnd my brothers -- I have three brothers and one sister. I think that she felt without our father present that discipline, you know, falling to her meant she had to be very assertive, is one way of saying it.
REHMOne way to put it. I totally understand. Well, Brenda, I'm glad you called and thanks for sharing. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I think that that's precisely how this book touches people because it does represent not just a fictional family, but it takes in the real life experiences of so many.
SNYDERYou know, I couldn't agree more. And I think, you know, there's this debate that's ongoing about the role of the humanities and the age of science and reason in which we're living. And I think -- but we need the humanities to explain ourselves to us. We need writing to be able to get us through these dark moments.
SNYDERYou know, I often tell the anecdote of September 11 and when all those schools in lower Manhattan reopened a couple of weeks after that devastating moment. And those kids -- you know, those kids had to make sense of what they had seen that day. And what were they asked to do? They were asked to write their memories. They were asked to draw their memories. They went straight to the humanities, right. The humanities are the thing that save us.
SNYDERI mean, I -- my mother died when I was a child. I watched her die in my father's bedroom. And before she died she made me keep a journal. The first one I have is when I'm eight years old. I did a trip to New York by myself -- well, not by -- my uncle lived there. I wasn't walking the streets as an eight-year-old. And I realize now that she gave me the greatest gift ever because she gave me a place to go. She gave me a place to make sense of the world, which is writing.
REHMYou know, I had William "Bro" Adams, the new director of the National Endowment for the Humanities on this program just the other day. And I think you make the case beautifully for the need for us to continue to understand the importance of the humanities. And Anne Tyler certainly figures into that very well. One thing I do want to get into is how these three siblings relate to each other, what they mean to each other. You have the sister Jenny who almost never comes home. You have Cody making every excuse not to come home. And there you have Ezra by his mother's side. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd as we talk about this book, "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant," by Anne Tyler, on the day before Thanksgiving, I have a sense that if everyone listening took their own family situation to the Thanksgiving table tomorrow, you'd probably have riots all over the country. I mean, you talked about the fact that you're not at all close to your siblings, Rachel.
REHMI don't think these three people are very close to each other.
SNYDERThese three are much closer than my siblings and I, I can tell you. I mean, we live in different countries, we don't -- I haven't spent a holiday with any of my siblings in, oh my gosh, I can't remember when.
SNYDERYeah. Or my father.
REHMOr your father?
REHMIs he still living?
SNYDERHe's still living. He lives out west. I see him from time to time because I have a daughter. And I want her to have a sense of what it means to have a grandfather. And he's grown softer with age, but, you know, he's -- I had a very different experience growing up.
SNYDERSo yeah, I can't -- I don't think I've spent a Christmas or Thanksgiving with, or, you know, anything with him in probably 15 years.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Cynthia in Trumansburg, New York. Hi, you're on the air.
CYNTHIAHi. I enjoyed this book, and my question, I think, is for Kevin Roy. Does he think that the mother, Pearl, has -- suffers from a borderline personality disorder? It's something that I wondered reading it, because, you know, she was orphaned so young, so she has a loss at a young age of her parents. She was outcast in the family that she stayed with and all of her extended family of origin. She was unable to love. She had so much distrust. She had this pride that was at the other end of her anger, you know? And people couldn't come next to her.
CYNTHIAAnd when they were at Ezra's restaurant, and Cody was first getting his job traveling around, and he talks about the Tanner industry, where the father had worked, Cody says, oh, that Tanner place, that was a two bit place. That was nothing. And the mother is insulted. Pearl said, don't insult me. Why are you saying this? And she walks out angry. And then, there's another time, on page 70, where Jenny is dreaming that her mother is a witch and would eat her. You know, it reminds -- I worked in mental health for a little bit, and actually quite a few years, and as a supportive counselor, in-patient, out-patient.
CYNTHIADid some reading, have some relatives and I have an interesting family myself. Personally, I believe it's not what happens to you in life, but what you with it. But does Kevin think that Pearl suffers from a borderline personality disorder? And I can take my answer off the air.
REHMSure. Thanks for calling.
ROYIt's a good question. It is something I thought about. I guess I resist the tendency to kind of assess a lot of mental health issues, particularly in characters. I think they bring up interesting questions, and so it could be that what Anne Tyler's doing is trying to capture the complexity of her emotional experience with her family and we're kind of getting the jagged edges of it, that she's bringing to the table. But I do think what she's, what she's struggling with in trying to deal with, kind of a, the deprivation and loss that she's experienced and the relationship with her kids.
ROYAnd all the expectations she had about them being a perfect family and working out. Those are important things to pay attention to. They really shape her interactions for decades with her children.
REHMBut let's face it. Considering the kind of abuse she leveled on those kids, if you or you or you saw a neighbor doing that, you'd call the police these days. I mean, she beat them so brutally, it was horrific. Now, either she had a borderline personality or her rage, at that stage of her life, was so intense she simply could not control herself, Laura.
LIPPMANShe couldn't. And -- and then Jenny, in the next generation, I actually was more upset about the scene in which Jenny's breaking down, when she's the mother of a young child. Because I mean, it's so glaring, what does Jenny become? She becomes a pediatrician, someone who takes care of children.
LIPPMANAnd yet, when she is the mother of a small child and she is a single mother, taking your daughter a glass of water in the middle of the night and then slapping her and screaming, take it, take it. That was much more raw to me, for some reason. I don't know if it was because I would hope that -- you hope that people can learn from example, but what we know is they don't necessarily. And that they repeat themselves. Reading, re-reading "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant," I was given cause to think a lot about someone, sort of, a legendary relative in my in-laws, whom I never knew.
LIPPMANBut who has been depicted to me as almost kind of a Queen Lear, who would say to her children, who loves me the most? And who changed her favorites on a regular basis.
LIPPMANAnd this has had consequences for the children and the children beyond and the children beyond. And, you know, I think that is part of the story of "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant." I mean, what is Ezra really trying to create in what I happen to believe is his way ahead of its time restaurant, which, if it opened in 2014...
LIPPMAN...would be the toast of Baltimore.
REHMYes. I mean, he's got the whole thing open...
REHM...and, and, and you can see the people cooking and preparing food.
LIPPMANIt's barnyard rustic.
REHMExactly. But, you know, I think it's important for us to point out what a wonderful storyteller Anne Tyler is. We've talked a lot about these characters and their problems, but the story is fabulous.
LIPPMANHer ability to sort of construct the emotional architecture of both the character and the plot, and how it moves, is just remarkable. Really remarkable.
REHMI should say.
LIPPMANI read a review, actually, that said something like, it was a New York Times review when this first came out and it was something to the effect of, you know, we haven't seen anybody in America who can create this level of complexity and quirkiness with female characters, consistently, and make them unique from book to book to book. This was like her ninth book or something.
LIPPMANAnd I think that's really right. I think it's true.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Kathleen in Waterford, Michigan. Hi, you're on the air.
KATHLEENHi. Thank you for letting me join this discussion. Anne Tyler is one of my all-time favorite authors.
KATHLEENAnd somebody just used the word quirky and I think that's a perfect description of her wonderful characters. Quirky, interesting, just not your everyday, not your everyday person. I was an English teacher for 38 years and I used the paragraph, the last paragraph in the first chapter of this book, "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant." It's on page 34. And it is, I think, close to perfection.
REHMWhy don't we ask Rachel to read that for us?
SNYDERIt's a beautiful paragraph. It was such a relief to drift, finally. Why had she spent so long learning how? The traffic sounds, horns and bells and rags of music flowed around the voices in her room. She kept mislaying her place in time, but it made no difference. All she remembered was equally pleasant. She remembered the feel of wind on summer night, how it billows through the house and wafts the curtains in smells of tar and roses. How a sleeping baby weighs so heavily on your shoulder, like ripe fruit.
SNYDERWhat privacy it is to walk in the rain beneath the drip and crackle of your own umbrella. She remembered a country auction she'd attended 40 years ago, where they'd offered up an antique brass bed, complete with all its bed clothes. Sheets and blankets, pillow and a linen case embroidered with forget-me-nots. Two men wheeled it on to the platform and its ruffled coverlet stirred like a young girl's petticoats. Behind her eyelids, Pearl Tull climbed in and laid her head on the pillow and was born away to the beach. Where three small children ran toward her, laughing across the sunlit sand.
REHMJust beautiful. Just absolutely beautiful. Thanks for your call. Let's go to Maggie who's in Rochester, New York. You're on the air.
MAGGIEHi. Good morning.
MAGGIEEzra is a sympathetic character.
MAGGIEHe keeps trying to get the family together at his restaurant. He's so earnest about it. He wants so badly to have them all come together and I don't think they ever completely finish a meal together there. Pearl gets mad and leaves. Or Cody gets mad and leaves. And then, at the last scene in the restaurant, when Beck finally returns, he leaves and they all go off looking for him. So, that's all I wanted to say.
REHMWell, I think it's an important factor in the book, Laura.
LIPPMANShe holds out hope that this might be the dinner that the Tull family finally finishes together. Beck says, Cody urges Beck to let's go finish our dinner. And Beck says, oh well, maybe this one last course. But I warn you, I plan to leave before that dessert wine's poured. Yet, there is this fragile little hope that maybe this is the dinner where at least Ezra, Jenny and Cody will stay together. And, you know, Beck doesn't really matter as much. I mean, he's, by his own decision, really not part of the family. But yeah, this is, you know, it's the dream of family that everyone's gonna be chasing tomorrow.
LIPPMANYou know, why can't we have that perfect dinner? Why can't it look like that Coca-Cola commercial? And everyone chases it, and yet everyone -- it was funny, before we started speaking on the air, you referred to the family as dysfunctional and I feel like the three of us went, they just seem kind of normal to me. Normally dysfunc -- very Tolstoy. You know, last year on Thanksgiving, I was sick and I was quarantined. I had the shingles.
LIPPMANAnd I was in bed at my aunt and uncle's house. And I gotta tell you. They had to bring a plate up to me. I watched "Homeland." One season, one episode after another. It was the perfect Thanksgiving. I was completely alone.
SNYDERThere's a front page story in the Washington Post today about friends giving, how a lot of people have decided no, I think I'll just stay home and hang out with friends. It's much less fraught than being with my family.
REHMIsn't that both interesting and sad?
ROYIt is, but it's the reality. It's -- family is supposed to be this kind of home in a heartless world, right? That we all run to, and Thanksgiving is probably the one time that we all want to go, literally, in front of the hearth and, you know, gather around it. But that's what makes this book so wonderful is that there's this continual urge to move it to this perfect place. And that's why I don't see this as dysfunctional. These are folks who are grappling with the realities of family that we usually sweep under the carpet.
ROYAnd that, over time, we start to peel back the layers and realize things are a lot more complicated. You know, in the pain and love that we show with each other and kind of the ebbs and flows of that over time.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And to Raleigh, North Carolina. Hi Dennis. Thanks for waiting.
DENNISHi, thanks Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
DENNISTwo comments. First, to one of your panelists. Writers and academicians tend to be black sheep in families and I am one of those people myself. And I think other family members sometimes just kind of separate out from that family member. And I believe one of your panelists stated she hasn't really spent any time with her family, her father. She has a child. Sometimes this type of family dynamic -- I have a cousin who is also an academician, former university President and he has told me that, you know, within his own family, his brothers, he's had the same kind of experience.
DENNISMy other comment is about the male character in the novel. Him leaving his family. There's a British novelist named Hanif Kureishi who wrote a book called, "Intimacy." And the book caused a lot of outrage in England, because it's about a man who leaves his wife and two children. He just gets up one day, leaves the home, leaves them. It actually paralleled what Kureishi himself did to his own family. And it kind of brought home to me that fact that as in Miss Tyler's book, it's hard to really fathom how people really think and feel.
DENNISWe can project our emotions. I'm the father of two sons. I've been married for 33 years. I would certainly never leave my family, but that doesn't mean I can judge someone else, you know, for what they do, for whatever their particular reasons are. I really don't think we have a real good hold on what -- who people really are and what motivates them to do what they do.
REHMI think you're absolutely right. Kevin, I see you searching for one specific passage.
ROYIt's like, it made me think of, when I read this book, Beck is of the age, and this is definitely coming out of the 30s and 40s, where rates of desertion were very high. Rates of divorce were not, and so it was very commonplace for men to leave.
ROYComing out of the Depression.
ROYVery high rates of desertion. And so then you get this odd situation at the end of the book where Beck says, well, I'm still married to your mother. And the kids realize, I guess you're right. You are still married. There was never a divorce.
REHMBut he, Beck, has used that as an excuse.
REHMNot to marry again.
ROYAbsolutely. And he talks about...
REHMHe's a rat. I mean, I think of Beck as a rat. I mean, he leaves this woman totally bereft. He does send her letters, occasionally to let her know where he is, what he's doing. He has affair after affair with various women. He never marries because he doesn't want to be attached.
ROYSee, I think of it, I think of it as his limitations. I think that it's kind of a pathetic existence that he's involved in.
ROYBut he talks about why he left, it was the grayness, the grayness of things, the half right, half wrongness of things. There's a sense that he's not able to engage or attach, in a way. And those are the things -- all the, you know, craziness that that involves, that's what really it comes down to in the end. That's what gives everything worth.
REHMWell, what I love about this book, "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant," is that it is all about the yearning for family. In its heart, that's what it's about. Beautiful, beautiful novel. Thank you all so much for joining me. Laura Lippman. Her new novel, "Hush Hush" comes out in February. Kevin Roy. He's at the University of Maryland. Rachel Louise Snyder. Her new novel, "What We've Lost is Nothing." Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. I'm Diane Rehm.
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