Jenny opened a plastic compact, looked into it, and then snapped it shut, as if merely making certain that she was still there.
That little bit from Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant has stuck with me for about 30 years now, and it flashes through my head every time I catch a quick glimpse of myself in a mirror. Still there! Little moments like this are just one of the 52 million reasons I love Anne Tyler like no other. My first Anne Tyler was The Accidental Tourist, but this is the one that cemented my lifelong love. I was very excited to revisit it after all this time, and it did not disappoint. Man, do I love this book! This is truly a perfect family saga. The “Country Cook” chapter is a flawless depiction of sibling rivalry, and could work as a standalone short story. I never forgot it and I never will. Every character is real and flawed and you love them and they break your heart. Even that deadbeat deserting dad kind of won me over in the end, and I really hated him, dammit!
The Royal Tenenbaums is one of my favorite movies, and this is one of my favorite books, but somehow I’d never noticed the parallels between them. The plot and setting aren’t the same but the family dynamics feel very similar. It’s fitting because The Royal Tenenbaums always felt like the movie of a favorite novel, I just never realized it was this favorite novel. And while I might have expected to identify most with the little sister, or maybe nowadays the matriarch, both times it’s the high strung, angry, outsider older brother who earns a special place in my heart. Whether you’re talking about Chas Tenenbaum or Cody Tull, either way, C.T., he is me.
Since my mom gave me this book back in the day, I must now do two things. First, I forgive her for that whole Flowers in the Attic thing, since this more than made up for it. Second, I have to make clear that while I do see some connections between my family and the Tulls, I do not see my mom in Pearl Tull. One thing I didn’t remember at all about this book was how abusive the mother is. I was totally relating to that character until she started slapping the kids left and right. Whoa! The abuse in this book is not glossed over or excused, but it was still pretty shocking since I remember this all so fondly. It’s funny how a little thing like looking into a compact stayed with me for all this time, but a pretty major theme of the book was totally forgotten. I guess these things happen when you read a couple thousand books in between. I hope to revisit this in the next 30 years, who knows what will surprise me then?