Synopses & Reviews
In this, her fourteenth novel and one of her most endearing Anne Tyler tells the story of a lovable loser who's trying to get his life in order.
Barnaby Gaitlin has been in trouble ever since adolescence. He had this habit of breaking into other people's houses. It wasn't the big loot he was after, like his teenage cohorts. It was just that he liked to read other people's mail, pore over their family photo albums, and appropriate a few of their precious mementos.
But for eleven years now, he's been working steadily for Rent-a-Back, renting his back to old folks and shut-ins who can't move their own porch furniture or bring the Christmas tree down from the attic. At last, his life seems to be on an even keel.
Still, the Gaitlins (of "old" Baltimore) cannot forget the price they paid for buying off Barnaby's former victims. And his ex-wife would just as soon he didn't show up ever to visit their little girl, Opal. Even the nice, steady woman (his guardian angel?) who seems to have designs on him doesn't fully trust him, it develops, when the chips are down, and it looks as though his world may fall apart again.
There is no one like Anne Tyler, with her sharp, funny, tender perceptions about how human beings navigate on a puzzling planet, and she keeps us enthralled from start to finish in this delicious new novel.
"Tyler's appealing warmth and flair for eccentric comedy are abundantly displayed in her superb 14th novel....Absolutely wonderful: Tyler's many admirers are sure to number this among her very best work." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Anne Tyler writes like an angel....One of those books that readers close at the end and recognize the truth they contain." USA Today
"So wonderfully readable that one swallows it in a single gulp....What makes this novel so irresistible is...Barnaby Gaitlin, a 30-year-old misfit, a renegade who is actually a kind-hearted man struggling to find his place in the world." Philadelphia Inquirer
"If we believe that serious novels are about the serach for a true home, then A Patchwork Planet is a novel that repays our always delighted attention." Carol Shields, The New York Times Book Review
"Possesses a tenderness reminiscent of Breathing Lessons....[Tyler] is beloved not just for her three-dimensional Baltimore or her quirkily intimate characters, but also for the small, heroic struggles they encounter in the course of a day." The Boston Sunday Globe
"Vintage Tyler....A Patchwork Planet tells the heart-tugging story of the sins of the boy being visited on the man." Chicago Tribune
"Fresh and engaging." Time
"Filled with insight and compassion....Tyler has crafted a remarkably lovable character, a young man as endearing as Macon Leary, the memorable protagonist of her 1985 bestseller, The Accidental Tourist." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"What resonates throughout the novel is Tyler's gentle wisdom. Her understanding of the complexities of human nature comes across beautifully, making this book a singular treat." The Miami Herald
"This could only be Tyler territory....In her 14th novel, the persuasive storyteller with the beautiful, unforced style works her familiar ground family, connection, the quirks of humans with ease." Entertainment Weekly
"A Patchwork Planet is filled with descriptions that summarize an entire way of life in a single image....[Tyler's] genius lies in making quotidian events extraordinarily poignant." San Francisco Chronicle
"Things are still quirky, sweet, funny, and wise in Tyler country....As Tyler involves us in the minutiae of Barnaby's ragtag life, she offers piquant musings on old age, selfishness, the opaqueness of people's hearts, and the intractability of love." Donna Seaman, Booklist
"It is Tyler's great talent to involves us thoroughly with her characters....Tyler brilliantly portrays their foibles, their disappointments and their hopes. Barnaby Gaitlin is one of her most sympathetic creations." People
"Recalls Tyler's early works, such as Celestial Navigation and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, which...are peopled by genuine eccentrics whose grip on the world is charmingly, but definitely, precarious....Anne Tyler lovingly captures that world." The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Writing with humor and pathos worthy of her previous works, Tyler continues to make distinctive observations about the quirks and peculiarities of domestic life and the struggle of some lost souls to be part of a world where everyone else seems focused on the beaten path." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"I adore Anne Tyler....It's hard to imagine any other writer...whom you can read with such unalloyed pleasure." San Jose Mercury News
"This is a wonderful novel don't miss it!....A Patchwork Planet is like a crazy quilt with familiar fabrics which, when assembled, becomes unique." Chattanooga Press
"This is a book you can trust....Tyler understands this modest world, both its frustrations and its rewards. With each funny, painful novel, she adds another square to her tapestry of redemption." The Christian Science Monitor
"Anne Tyler once again creates characters that are believable, funny and true....In Barnaby Gaitlin, Tyler has created a character who looks into the mirror of self-revelation and finds not only flaws but redeeming qualities as well." Hartford Courant
"A sophisticated, poignant and carefully crafted chart of the vicissitudes of trust." Time Out New York
"A Patchwork Planet is filled with pleasure and pain. That the pleasure triumphs is [Tyler's] final kindness to us, her readers." Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
"The novel is wise and funny....Not only a colorful snapshot of youth but a compassionate picture of old age....With exquisite description and flawless dialogue, Tyler dignifies the lives of miraculously ordinary characters." New York Daily News
"Alternately comedic and tragic....With A Patchwork Planet, Tyler has once again served up literary comfort food for the soul." BookPage
About the Author
Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis in 1941 but grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She graduated at nineteen from Duke University, and went on to do graduate work in Russian studies at Columbia University. Her eleventh novel, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is also the author of If Morning Ever Comes, The Tin Can Tree, A Slipping-Down Life, The Clock Winder, Celestial Navigation, Searching for Caleb, Earthly Possessions, Morgan's Passing, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, The Accidental Tourist, Saint Maybe, and Ladder of Years. Tyler is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Baltimore.
Reading Group Guide
1. "I am a man you can trust." Barnaby begins and ends the novel with this statement. How has Barnaby's understanding of this characterization of himself changed over the course of this story?
2. "Just because we were related didn't mean we were any good at understanding each other," says Barnaby after yet another frustrating conversation with his mother. Communication problems abound within the families depicted in this novel. Discuss the nature and source of these problems. Why do we often have so much trouble talking to the people we love?
3. Even as adults, many of us, like Barnaby, still view our families through the eyes of a child. How does this blind us? How do we heal the old wounds? Can we?
4. During a family dinner for his birthday, Barnaby asks himself, "How come I always got the feeling that somebody was missing from our family table?" What do you think Barnaby was missing? And why is his mother so insistent upon including his childhood friend, Len Parrish, in the festivities?
5. How does Barnaby's understanding of and relationship with his daughter change over the course of this story? How does it mirror his relationship with his own parents?
6. Barnaby's daughter is upset upon meeting some of his clients, and Barnaby is criticized for this. Do you think he was wrong to bring Opal with him on his rounds?
7. While Barnaby tells us a great deal about his marriage to Natalie, we learn little about her views of things. How do you think Natalie would describe their relationship, and how would it differ from Barnaby's account?
8. "And I was beginning to suspect that it made no difference whether they'd married the right person. Finally, you're just with who you're with. You've signed on with her, put in half a century with her, grown to know her as well as you know yourself or even better, and she's become the right person." Discuss the meaning of this summary of marriage according to Barnaby. Do you agree or disagree?
9. Barnaby's brief career as a juvenile delinquent involves snooping in other people's personal effects and "collecting" their personal mementos. What do you think motivated him to do this? Have you ever felt the compulsion to look in other people's private things? Why or why not?
10. Have you ever encountered a stranger on a train who intrigued you as Sophia intrigued Barnaby? Have you ever done anything about it as Barnaby does?
11. Barnaby seems surrounded by smug and self-satisfied people--his mother, his ex-wife, his brother, to name a few--who he never seems to measure up to. Barnaby feels much less comfortable in his own skin. Do you think this is a trait only he possesses?
12. What motivates Barnaby to re-pay his parents, and why does his mother try to give the money back?
13. This novel explores the bittersweet struggles of older people to maintain their dignity and independence in the face of advancing age. What do you think about the fact that Barnaby knows more about the lives of his clients than many of their own families do? What does this novel suggest about the treatment and place of elderly people in our society?
14. Barnaby's clients deal with the indignities and problems associated with aging--e.g., failing health, isolation--in many different ways. How do their approaches vary, and what accounts for this?
15. Do you think Sophia was actually Barnaby's guardian angel? Why or why not?
16. Why is Barnaby able to overlook attributes in Sophia that infuriate him in other people for so long? How does his attitude change and why?
17. Which character(s) did you find to be the most compelling and why?
18. What is the significance of the title of this novel?
19. Why did your group choose to read this particular work? How does this novel compare with other works your group has read?
Reader's Guide copyright © 1999 by The Ballantine Publishing Group,
a division of Random House, Inc.