38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
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.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2002
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. Barnaby is an incredibly likable protagonist and Tyler's characterization of Barnaby's mother, girlfriend, and childhood best friend are both hilarious and poignant. One of the best books I have read this year.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2002
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.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
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.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2002
Appearances are deceiving. Is Barnaby Gaitlin an honest man?
In her latest novel, A Patchwork Planet, Anne Tyler's characters remind us of people in our own lives, both young and old.
Barnaby Gaitlin is employed by a company that does chores for senior citizens such as taking them to appointments and moving furniture. Barnaby's clients trust him and are very fond of him.
With his family, it's a different story . As a teenager, Barnaby stole things, not really knowing why. He would break into houses with his friend and look through their photo albums. His first marriage did not work out and he has a little girl he visits each Saturday. His mother never lets him forget that he has not lived up to her expectations, unlike his brother who has conformed by going into the family business. She never lets him forget for a moment the trouble he caused the family growing up. She would like him to stay indebted to her forever.
Barnaby manages to free himself of this emotional blackmail and also from his girl friend who is behaving in the same way toward him as his mother. Both believe he is not trustworthy although he has proved over and over that he is.
What is a successful human being? Is caring for people whether they are pleasant or not, as opposed to making money , driving an expensive car and living in a good neighborhood what makes a successful human?
With humor, dialog that shows each person's character and an eye for detail, Anne Tyler creates a world that shows us the human condition.
Before she died, one of Barnaby's clients made a colorful quilt with a planet cobbled together of little pieces of cloth. While clearing out her house for resale, Barnaby says of the quilt, "it's beautiful."
With all its flaws, it's a beautiful patchwork planet.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2001
I have long been a fan of Ann Tyler's work, and she continues to amaze me. In "A Patchwork Planet," Ms. Tyler offers another in her long line of unforgettable dysfunctional families. Thematically, she makes time, its effects and illusions, a center of her meditations.
As I read through the text, I found myself thinking a lot about the effects that time has on families. In Barnaby Gaitlin, her protagonist in this tale, we find an unpromising man who is stuck in time so far as his family is concerned. His adolescent exploits into juvenile delinquency provided some of the glue that cemented his place in the family as its problem, its focus of problems, its excuse for staying stuck as the years pass by them all. Through the course of the narrative, Barnaby attempts to extricate himself from this stuck position. His efforts to change his life are made concrete through the process of paying back money to his parents. We see yet again that beliefs are almost never challenged by facts, and almost never displaced by another's actions.
The wonderful cast of elderly characters that comprise Barnaby's clients for his job with Rent-A-Back display another side of time. Any and all human battles against time are futile. One of the most interesting aspects of this novel is seeing the way that people cope with the inevitable diminished abilities that are a part of aging. If we are lucky enough to have a long life, we will all eventually be included among those "old people."
Sophie, Barnaby's girlfriend, serves as his "angel," in line with a Gaitlin family tradition. As such, she shows why it is never a good idea to ask an angel to stay. Sophie refuses to struggle with time and change, preferring to sacrifice her money more than her heart. Through Sophie, we see how we could have lost the truth left in the wake of those who came into our lives briefly and departed quickly. Such people often effect us most deeply; sometimes they completely change our direction in life. Such encounters hold only time enough for possibility and no time at all for the mundane disappointments that mark all our closest relationships. In the end, perhaps we should rejoice that our angels left us as quickly as they did.
I have noticed that in each of Ms. Tyler's books there is a short passage or moment that remains with me long after I finish the book. In "The Accidental Tourist" it is a short passage in which one of the cousins asks Macon if his dead son will forgive him for forgetting what he looked like. In this book, there is a short passage in which Martine, Barnaby's Amazonian female partner at Rent-A-Back, describes being surrounded by children who think that she is old. It's a touching description of the surprise that one must feel when one realizes that one is old, more powerful because it is framed by one who eschews both tradition and weakness.
"A Patchwork Planet" is highly recommended. It's a keeper, as are all of Ann Tyler's books.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2000
sighed, and said "What a great story!", thus waking my husband and drawing his wrath (we were both extremely jet-lagged at the time). It was that good.
It's so easy to get jaded about books today - often the books touted on the bestseller lists are, well, less than impressive. Then comes along a book like A Patchwork Planet, reviving my delight in reading. Original characters, situations, problems - yet so relatable. Barnaby touched me with his impetuous kindnesses, his slides into self-pity, and his reluctant wish to believe that his life is worth having an angel enter it.
And, oh, the other characters! I wanted to slap his mother and yell at Sophia. My lord, how could they do him like that? When a reader gets so into a book that they're shaking it in anger at a character, you know the author has done their job.
I've read Accidental Tourist and Breathing Lessons (both gems); now I'm going to have to read the rest of Ms. Tyler's books.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 22, 1999
Barnaby is the little boy who wants to do good and be a human being. But he is thwarted by his own destructive impulses. Mrs Dibble is his Jiminy Cricket, Sophia his blue angel. However, one thing's missing: we all know Pino came from a block of wood, but where did Anne Tyler dig up Barnaby? This guy has everything cut out for him to be successful, but what caused all his early pent-up aggression that led him to crime? His father seems civilized enough, though his mother is probably more than the average pain in the rear. Nor are his parents doting enough to make him a spoiled rich brat. In any case, if readers accept that Barnaby is merely 'different', then the rest of the story holds well. Despite his off the wall behavior, Barnaby shows a good heart all through the story, and not just in the ending. Anne Tyler writes well in her familiar witty prose, but with a tinge of sadness and cynicism that I hadn't noticed in her previous work.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2003
No one can create quirky, beguiling, harmless misfits as well as Anne Tyler, and in A Patchwork Planet, Barnaby Gaitland steps onto the page. He's the black sheep of an affluent family, living in a rented basement studio, divorced, wanting to be a better father to his daughter, working for Rent-a-Back, a service company that does household jobs its elderly clients can no longer manage. Along comes 'an angel,' and his life seems to take a major turn for the better. But niggling in the background of this too-perfect arrangement are hints of Barnaby's dissatisfaction - and he can't quite put his finger on what's wrong with the relationship till he's accused of theft. Then his REAL angel is revealed.
Wonderful plot structure, wonderful characters, wonderful conclusion.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 1999
I've had this book since it came out, but, oddly enough, just got around to reading it. I'm so thankful that I did. Anne Tyler has that magical gift of being able to make me feel something every time I read her work. Barnaby is a person, in a long line of people she has created, who has such extraordinary things to say, and such a simply truthful way of saying them. I always find Tyler's characters to be incredibly engaging - likeable in an honest, wrinkled sort of way. And I always find myself deeply touched by their lives, and the oh so human way they live them. Barnaby, of course, is no exception. He's struggling with something we all struggle with - what gives our lives meaning? And I think Tyler has answered that question beautifully.