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A Patchwork Planet Hardcover – April 14, 1998

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 287 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1st edition (April 14, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037540256X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375402562
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (199 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,086,323 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Barnaby Gaitlin is one of Anne Tyler's most promising unpromising characters. At 30, he has yet to graduate from college, is already divorced, and is used to defeat. His mother thrives on reminding him of his adolescent delinquency and debt to his family, and even his daughter is fed up with his fecklessness. Still, attuned as he is to "the normal quota for misfortune," Barney is one of the star employees of Baltimore's Rent-a-Back, Inc., which pays him an hourly wage to help old people (and one young agoraphobe) run errands and sort out their basements and attics. Anne Tyler makes you admire most of these mothball eccentrics (though they're far from idealized) and hope that they can stave off nursing homes and death. There is, for example, "the unstoppable little black grandma whose children phoned us on an emergency basis whenever she threatened to overdo." And then there's Barnaby's new girlfriend's aunt, who will eventually accuse him of theft--"Over her forearm she carried a Yorkshire terrier, neatly folded like a waiter's napkin. 'This is my doorbell,' she said, thrusting him toward me. 'I'd never have known you were out here if not for Tatters.'" These people are wonderful creations, but their lives are more brittle than cuddly, Barnaby knows better than to think of them as friends, because they'll only die on him. Yet his job offers at least glimpses of roots and affection. Helping an old lady set up her Christmas tree (on New Year's Eve!) gives him the chance to hang a singular ornament--a snowflake "pancake-sized, slightly crumpled, snipped from gift wrap so old that the Santas were smoking cigarettes." And Barnaby himself is sharp and impatient at painful--and painfully funny--family dinners, apparently unable to keep his finger off the auto-self-destruct button every time his life improves. As much as his superb creator, he is a poet of disappointment, resignation, and minute transformation. --Kerry Fried

From Library Journal

David Morse's reading in a calm, even tone reflects the unruffled attitude of the central character in this story. After getting into trouble early in his young adult life, and subsequently paying for his crime, Barney Gaitlin has achieved a level of fulfillment working with senior citizens. Unfortunately, he is perceived by most of his family and friends as a failure, not having attained a college education nor a high-paying position in a high-profile profession. In a relationship with Sophia Maynard, he tries to find a greater level of stability, partly to create a more suitable atmosphere in which to establish closer ties with his young daughter. Tyler's (The Ladder of Years, Audio Reviews, LJ 8/96) characters are real people recognizable in one's own circle of acquaintances. The bonds and tensions arising among family members are readily understandable. A definite recommendation for academic and public library fiction collections.?Catherine Swenson, Norwich Univ., VT
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

As in most of her books, the main characters are very real and flawed and life doesn't go quite as planned.
T. Foster
The story kept me involved, and was one where you wonder what the characters are doing even when you're not reading the book!
A Patchwork Planet is a lovely novel that will warm your heart and leave you craving to read more of Anne Tyler's works.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By klavierspiel VINE VOICE on June 13, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Anne Tyler's gift for characterization is never more in evidence than in the narrator of this novel. Barnaby Gaitlin is the black sheep of a wealthy Baltimore family, divorced, working a menial job, struggling to maintain a semblance of respectability and good relations with his ex-wife and nine-year-old daughter. A chance encounter on a train to Philadelphia brings him together with Sophia, a calm, competent woman with whom Barnaby finds love and a chance at happiness. But life is never as simple as it seems...
As with many of Tyler's books, what seems at first to be a collection of inconsequential and even trivial events gathers a surprising cumulative force, due to the profusion of funny and moving observations about life, death, love and family along the way. The strength and emotional power of Patchwork Planet lies as much in the incidental encounters with Barnaby's clientele (he works for a service called Rent-a-Back, performing odd jobs for elderly and disabled folk) as with those nominally closer to him. By the end the reader is totally wrapped up in Barnaby's emotional odyssey, rooting for him to win through to happiness, which at the last he seems on the verge of attaining, though not in the way one might have expected.
A Patchwork Planet will speak to anyone who has felt overwhelmed by the small daily battles of existence, unloved by loved ones, and insecure about his/her place and purpose in life; in other words, just about anyone.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 3, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is the sentence that Tyler uses to begin and end her wonderfully sensitive novel about Barnaby Gatlin, a man who considers himself a "loser". Throughout the course of the novel, we realize that Barnaby is really no such thing. He is a gentle, kind man who is still being punsihed at age 30 by his family and by himself for a series of mistakes he made as a teenager.
Barnaby is a 30-year-old divorcee with a daughter he cannot relate to, no money, and a dead-end job at Rent-a-Back, an errand-running and odd-job service for senior citizens. He is the son of wealthy philanthropists, who never let him forget that the series of break-ins and petty thefts he committed as a teenager cost them $8700 and the respect of the neighborhood. When Barnaby encounters Sofia on a train, he is captivated by her ability not to peek in a mysterious package she is supposed to deliever to a stranger. Believing her to be a guardian angel, he meets her and begins working for her aunt. He later becomes romantically involved with her. What drives this novel's plot is Sofia's aunt's accusation that Barnaby stole money from her, and Sofia's response to the accusations.
What I loved about this story was Tyler's inquiry into why society characterizes some people as losers. True, Barnaby lacks material possessions and has made mistakes in his past. However, Barnaby's gentleness with his Rent-A-Back customers and his grandparents are wonderfully philanthropic. Meanwhile, his mother, the "true" philanthropist, is a petty, unforgiving person who seems truly unhappy. Tyler's exploration into the loneliness and indignities of old age are also compassionate and insightful.
The first and last sentence relate to Barnaby's ability to trust himself, and forgive himself for the transgressions of his youth.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Cassandra on January 17, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
What is it about Barnaby Gaitlin? He's almost 30 (oh, that dreaded birthday!), lives in a run-down basement, is divorced, with a young daughter who he seldom sees, works at a menial job & generally struggles to survive. This at least is the description of Barnaby's life, if you look at it from a detached, criticizing point of view. He's the ultimate "loser" in a society that measures people through their wealth, beauty, image. Barnaby comes from a rich family, but is a former juvenile delinquent. He's not particulary handsome & he couldn't care less about his image. Still, in a world that would measure people in different ways, he would be considered a wonderful man: through his work he helps those most in need (elderly clients in the company "Rent-a-back") & is a kind, thoughtful, gentle man, but hopelessly insecure & maybe misdirected.
Along comes Sophia, a school-marmish sort of woman, who, as is mentioned in the book, "each night scrubs her face, brushes her teeth & climbs- alone- into her four-poster-bed". Barnaby thinks Sophia is his guardian-angel (a tradition in his family) & forms a relationship with her, striving to be as good as she is. What he doesn't realise, until the end, is that Sophia's goodness is only skin-deep, while his own character & potential is more truthful & honest by far.
What stays with me after closing the book is first, the whole theme of goodness & the ability to give to others, which is explored beautifully, & second, Anne Tyler's thoughts about old-age & elderly people...very chilling, very true. Those chapters broke my heart but I thought they were true to life.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 14, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
In Anne Tyler's "A Patchwork Planet," we meet thirty-year-old Barnaby Gaitlin, a man who has never fit into polite society. He was a juvenile delinquent as a boy. He later married and divorced, and he has a daughter whom he sees now and then. Barnaby has very little money, he dresses shabbily, and he lives in a rundown apartment.

Barnaby works for "Rent-a-Back," a company that specializes in doing odd jobs for elderly people who cannot manage by themselves. Since his divorce, Barnaby has never seriously dated anyone. However, one day he meets a genteel and proper woman named Sophia, and it appears that Barnaby may settle down at last. In many ways, Barnaby appears to be a consummate loser, but he connects deeply with his elderly clients and he always goes the extra mile for them. Since he is an outsider himself, Barnaby understands people who no longer feel useful or wanted. In this novel, Anne Tyler shows an appreciation of and a deep compassion for those who live on the fringes of life.

With rare eloquence, Tyler expresses the idea that there is a place on our "patchwork planet" for everyone, including those who are a little odd or slightly out of step. How much better our world would be if we opened up our hearts to those people whom society has forgotten. "A Patchwork Planet" is an original and engrossing look at life, love, death and loneliness.
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More About the Author

Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. This is her 17th novel. Her 11th, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. A member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, she lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

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