Monday, 29 June 2015

Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler / Eventide by Kent Haruf / Gotta Find A Home by Dennis Cardiff

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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I picked up two Anne Tyler paperbacks at Age UK in Stokesley, Yorkshire, as part of a three for 99p promotion. My third book was Crazy As Chocolate which I've already read and reviewed. I've read a few Anne Tyler before and found her work ranged from pretty good to fabulous and I am pleased to say that I think Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant is one of her fabulous novels!

Set in Baltimore, Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant begins with elderly Pearl remembering her life and family. Initially I felt sorry for her. She was abandoned by her husband and left with three children to raise alone while holding down a job in order to finance her family. However, as we learn more about the past, I began to see that nothing is clear cut at all. I loved how Tyler portrays a non-maternal mother. Pearl loves her children more than anything, but she is not the cope-with-anything mother figure that many novels like to portray. This is a woman struggling to succeed and making mistakes along the way. As her children, Cody, Ezra and Jenny, grow up and move away, the family fragments still further and it was interesting to see how the next generation viewed their grandmother too.

I have given this novel five stars because I was engrossed from start to finish. I didn't particularly like most of the characters, but I loved how realistically they have been created and Tyler's deep understanding of the dynamics of family relationships. A great read!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Anne Tyler / Contemporary fiction / Books from America


Eventide by Kent Haruf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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I've been saving Eventide, the second book in Kent Haruf's trilogy, because the first, Plainsong, was just so brilliant that I didn't want the series to be over too soon! In Eventide, we return to the same town of Holt, Colorado, and a few of the same people - Victoria is still with the McPheron brothers - and we meet other residents including special needs couple Luther and Betty who, mentally, are barely more than children themselves yet have children of their own too. There are amazing moments in Eventide. The McPheron's loss nearly brought tears to my eyes and I was also moved by Luther and Betty, especially their reactions to Betty's uncle. I don't want to say more and give away plotlines!

Haruf's portrayal of small town America is very different from what we are usually shown on TV shows and in mainstream fiction. His sensitive depictions are especially hard-hitting because of his matter of fact prose style. There is no sensationalism or blatant plot devices, no artificial cliff hangers, simply very human people living through the trials of everyday life. Like Anne Tyler's Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant, which I read just before Eventide, the strength of this work is in its sharp observations and complete understanding of human nature. Haruf's society is kind, honest, generous, hopeful, violent, selfish and weary. This was easily a five star read and I was sorry to finish it as I could have spent much longer in this company. Fortunately I still have Benediction on our Kindle to look forward to.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Kent Haruf / Contemporary fiction / Books from America


Gotta Find a Home: Conversations with Street People by Dennis Cardiff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my WorldReads from Canada

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I discovered Gotta Find A Home on twitter where its author posts as @DennisCardiff. I will admit that I am one of those who generally averts their eyes when I notice beggars on the street so, other than the usual political platitudes, I know very little about the people themselves. Intrigued by Dennis' synopsis, I bought his book. All the profits from Gotta Find A Home are donated to homelessness alleviation projects in Toronto so I thought, even if I didn't like the read, I was doing a good thing with its purchase.

As it turned out, this is a pretty fascinating book. Written in diary form, Dennis recounts daily conversations he has had with members of a fluctuating group of homeless panhandlers (beggars) who live near to where he works in Toronto. Conversations aren't recorded, but related from memory, so I did find the speaking style a little odd to begin with. What surprised me most though was the lack of a stereotype within the group. These people are of all ages from their twenties to their sixties (although many will die much younger than they might if they weren't homeless) some are abuse victims but not all, some are alcoholics or drug addicts but not all, some have a university education while others can barely write, some are mentally disturbed while others are highly intelligent and articulate. There is apparently no such thing as A Typical Homeless Person.

Dennis makes no claims to have the answers to homelessness, neither does he defend or vilify the behaviour and actions of the people about whom he writes. Instead he simply presents their day-to-day lives and leaves us readers to make our own decisions. Formerly anonymous grey shapes, as appear in every town in Britain in the same circumstances as in Canada, now define themselves into 'normal people' (if you'll excuse that phrase). This is Joy. This is Ian. This is Hippo. This is Lucy. They talk about their friends and relationships, what they might have for dinner, how much they've earned today, and whether there is enough to pay the rent. Then they mention an acquaintance who had his teeth kicked out and another who was doused in gasoline and set alight.

I think Gotta Find A Home would make a very interesting Book Club choice as I found my assumptions being challenged, but without my being made to feel defensive or hectored. I would definitely like to hear opinions from other readers as I hope that this memoir will remain memorable for me.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Dennis Cardiff / Memoirs / Books from Canada

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