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Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler, dramatized by Rebecca Lenkiewicz

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15-Minute Drama on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 20-31 May 2013
 
First published in 1982, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant follows the lives of a Baltimore family, in which Pearl (Barbara Barnes) has been deserted by her husband and has to bring up her three children Cody (Ben Crowe), Ezra (Simon Lee Phillips), and Jenny (Fenella Woolgar) on her own.  The story works through various twists and turns, focusing especially on how the three siblings experience the past in different ways.  The "Homesick Restaurant' of the title refers to Ezra's establishment, where he tries unsuccessfully to bring the family together. 
 
Rebecca Lenkiewicz's 15-Minute Drama adaptation was introduced by a Narrator (Lorelei King), who not only set the story's various scenes but offered comments on the characters' states of mind throughout the tale.  In many ways she resembled the Narrator in many of Henry James' great novels; neither condemning nor favouring any particular character, she nonetheless sympathized with them as they tried to make sense of their lives while coming to terms with their fractured pasts.  What happened during their childhood had a profound effect on them as adults, and no amount of specially staged reconciliations - e.g. at the restaurant - could erase that.
 
David Hunter's production illuminated some of the contradictions lurking at the heart of this family: domestic life was at once unbearable yet offered a source of stability for Pearl; the so-called family 'rules' of behaviour (such as finding the right partner, or sustaining a fašade of respectability) were at once confining yet provides the ways in which the siblings could be socialized; while the characters tried their best to escape the past, while understanding that this process was ultimately impossible.
 
This kind of drama worked especially well in the 15-Minute Drama slot: each episode offered a kind of snapshot of the family's life throughout the ages without offering any solutions to their problems.