A Patchwork Planet

A Patchwork Planet

3.8 12
by Anne Tyler

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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…  See more details below


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.

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Editorial Reviews

Philadelphia Inquirer
Wonderfully readable.
Chicago Tribune
Heart-tugging...vintage Tyler.
Laura Green
A train pulls out of Baltimore's Penn station. Boarding passengers include Barnaby, the scruffily dressed, estranged scion of the "old" Baltimore Gaitlins, and a prim, hair-netted young woman. Idly snooping, Barnaby sees this woman accept a mysterious package from a frantic stranger, who claims it is a passport forgotten by his daughter, awaiting its delivery in Philadelphia. On his way, reluctantly, to a rendezvous with his ex-wife and 9-year-old daughter, Barnaby spends the train ride futilely willing the prim woman to open the package, astonished at her ability to be "so well behaved even when she thought nobody was looking."

Fans will recognize, in this opening cocktail of Baltimore, frayed family ties, and the fateful encounter of strangers, the simultaneously mundane and magical world of Anne Tyler. They may find, however, that in A Patchwork Planet the mundane overwhelms the magical. Tyler's 14th novel is narrated with wry bafflement by 29-year-old Barnaby, whose life has gone off the rails since he was caught robbing neighborhood homes as an adolescent. A true Tyler protagonist, Barnaby seeks out the detritus of human relationships rather than looting stereos and jewelry: "Back in the days when I was a juvenile delinquent, I used to break into houses and read people's private mail. Also photo albums ... I sat on the sofa poring over somebody's wedding pictures." To the despair of his distant father, his social-climbing mother, his chilly ex-wife and his prematurely patriarchal brother, Barnaby now works for a company called Rent-a-Back, doing odd jobs for elderly clients.

He also waits, without much hope, for a visitation from the Gaitlin angel. It was such an angel — a "big, tall woman with golden hair coiled in a braid on top of her head" — who first suggested to Barnaby's great-grandfather the invention of the wooden dress-form that made the Gaitlins rich. We know that Barnaby will find his angel, though perhaps not where he first looks; we also know that his search will lead him through family crises and reconciliations. Indeed, the theme and action of A Patchwork Planet, as in all of Tyler's novels, can be summed up in Barnaby's reflections on how "these family messes" are temporarily resolved: "The most unforgivable things got ... oh, not forgiven. Never forgiven. But swept beneath the rug, at least; brushed temporarily to one side; buried in a shallow grave."

In A Patchwork Planet, however, the shallow burials and exhumations of the familiar Tyler types — the passive, lovable loser man, the provocatively undernourished girl, the less-than-loving mother — seem more mechanical than epiphanic. The characters are exasperatingly, rather than charmingly, quirky: As Barnaby misses one more appointment or confesses to having once attempted to torch his parents' house, the reader may share his family's annoyance. Tyler's best novels, such as Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, hit their targets — her readers' hearts — with a gentle but satisfying jolt. They expose the damage done by familial negotiations, but insist on the possibility of consolation. A Patchwork Planet diverts, but its characters' wounds don't go very deep, and their recoveries fail to inspire.

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
The Seattle Times
A perfect gem...Tyler's books get wiser, funnier, and richer as they go.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Wonderfully readable.
Carol Shields
If we believe that serious novels are about the search for a true home, then A Patchwork Planet is a novel that repays our always delighted attention.
New York Times Book Review
Deirdre Donahue
Anne Tyler writes like an angel....One of those books that readers close at the end and recognize the truth they contain.
USA Today
Richard Eder
Tyler is our fictional double agent. She embarks with a seemingly humdrum normality of story, characters and setting (Baltimore, invariably, and a white-bread, white, and cheerfully non-gothic Baltimore) and packs tiny bombs in her luggage.
From the Publisher
"Anne Tyler writes like an angel....One of those books that readers close at the end and recognize the truth they contain."
USA Today


The Seattle Times

"SO WONDERFULLY READABLE THAT ONE SWALLOWS IT IN A SINGLE GULP...What makes this novel so irresistible is the main character and narrator 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

—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

Chicago Tribune


"Filled with insight and compassion, Anne Tyler's 14th novel chronicles a year in the life of a 30-year-old 'loser' named Barnaby Gaitlin....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....She endows the tale of Barnaby's eventual self-discovery and redemption with charm, quiet humor and many bittersweet observations on the meaning of emotional connectedness with those around us, the aging process and the ability we all possess to start afresh."
The Miami Herald

"This could only be Tyler territory, where losers are treated with a tenderness that encourages them to consider winning in the world. 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

"In an uncertain world, it's reassuring to know for an absolute fact that Anne Tyler's next novel (and the one after that and the one after that) will cause me to shiver at truths that I recognize but have never heard voiced, pinch me sharply with its poignancy and catch me off guard with funny moments that make me laugh so hard I have to put the book down until I get a grip on myself. Tyler's 14th novel, A Patchwork Planet, does all that."
San Diego Union Tribune

Tyler's many admirers are sure to number this among her very best work....[Her] appealing warmth and flair for eccentric comedy are abundantly displayed in her superb 14th novel."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"It is Tyler's great talent to involves us thoroughly with her characters. With a keen eye for detail and the sense of humanity that she displayed in her 1985 novel The Accidental Tourist, Tyler brilliantly portrays their foibles, their disappointments and their hopes. Barnaby Gaitlin is one of her most sympathetic creations."

"A Patchwork Planet, Pulitzer Prize-winning Anne Tyler's 14th novel, finds the black-sheep son of an old Baltimore family attempting to get his life on track....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

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

"Always entertaining...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

"I don't know whether anyone has called Tyler a fin-de-siècle Jane Austen. I guess I'll do it here. Like Austen's, Tyler's books are full of life's little lessons, closely observed and compassionately recounted....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."

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Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.22(w) x 6.86(h) x 0.78(d)

Read an Excerpt

As if she'd heard me, she told the man, "I hope this isn't some kind of contraband." Except she pronounced it "counterband," which made me think she must not be a schoolmarm, after all.

"No, no!" the man told her. He gave a huff of a laugh. "No, I can assure you it's not counterband."

Was he repeating her mistake on purpose? I couldn't tell. (Or maybe the word really was "counterband.") Meanwhile, the loudspeaker came to life again. The delayed 10:10 was now boarding. Train wheels squealed below me. "I'll do it," the woman decided.

"Oh, wonderful! That's wonderful! Thanks!" the man told her, and he handed her the packet. She was already rising. Instead of a suitcase, she had one of those tote things that could have been just a large purse, and she fitted the strap over her shoulder and lined up the packet with the book she'd been reading. "So let's see," the man was saying. "You've got light-colored hair, you're wearing a brown print coat. . . . I'll call the pay phone where my daughter's waiting and let her know who to watch for. She'll be standing at Information when you get there. Esther Brimm, her name is--a redhead. You can't miss that hair of hers. Wearing jeans and a blue-jean jacket. Ask if she's Esther Brimm."

He followed the woman through the double doors and down the stairs, although he wasn't supposed to. I was close behind. The cold felt good after the packed waiting room. "And you are?" the man was asking.

Affected way of putting it. They arrived on the platform and stopped short, so that I just about ran over them. The woman said, "I'm Sophia--" and then something like "Maiden" that I couldn't exactly hear. (The train was in placebut rumbling, and passengers were clip-clopping by.) "In case we miss connections, though . . . ," she said, raising her voice.

In case they missed connections, he should put his name and phone number on the mailer. Any fool would know that much. But he seemed to have his mind elsewhere. He said, "Um . . . now, do you live in Baltimore? I mean, are you coming back to Baltimore, or is Philly your end destination?"

I almost laughed aloud at that. So! Already he'd forgotten he was grateful; begun to question his angel of mercy's reliability. But she didn't take offense. She said, "Oh, I'm a long-time Baltimorean. This is just an overnight visit to my mother. I do it every weekend: take the ten-ten Patriot Saturday morning and come back sometime Sunday."

"Well, then!" he said. "Well. I certainly do appreciate this."

"It's no trouble at all," she said, and she smiled and turned to board.

I had been hoping to sit next to her. I was planning to start a conversation--mention I'd overheard what the man had asked of her and then suggest the two of us check the contents of his packet. But the car was nearly full, and she settled down beside a lady in a fur hat. The closest I could manage was across the aisle to her left and one row back, next to a black kid wearing earphones. Only view I had was a schoolmarm's netted yellow bun and a curve of cheek.

Well, anyhow, why was I making this out to be such a big deal? Just bored, I guess. I shucked my jacket off and sat forward to peer in my seat-back pocket. A wrinkly McDonald's bag, a napkin stained with ketchup, a newspaper section folded to the crossword puzzle. The puzzle was only half done, but I didn't have a pen on me. I looked over at the black kid. He probably didn't have a pen, either, and anyhow he was deep in his music--long brown fingers tapping time on his knees.

Then just beyond him, out the window, I chanced to notice the passport man talking on the phone. Talking on the phone? Down here beside the tracks? Sure enough: one of those little cell phones you all the time see obnoxious businessmen showing off in public. I leaned closer to the window. Something here was weird, I thought. Maybe he smuggled drugs, or worked for the CIA. Maybe he was a terrorist. I wished I knew how to read lips. But already he was closing his phone, slipping it into his pocket, turning to go back upstairs.

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Meet 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.

Brief Biography

Baltimore, Maryland
Date of Birth:
October 25, 1941
Place of Birth:
Minneapolis, Minnesota
B.A., Duke University, 1961

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Patchwork Planet 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this until I came to the last two pages. It leaves you up in the air, just chopped off from all the loose ends. What became of all the relationships? What about the money? It needs about 50 more pages.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was the second Anne Tyler book i have read, and I loved it. I usually don't like school assigned authors, but Anne Tyler is amazing! I really think she has evolved as a writer since A Tin Can Tree which was the first book i have read by her.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked the feeling of "Patchwork Planet", it most defintely has a distinct flow to it. I had never read anything by Anne Tyler before this and I think that I would like to try her other works. An intersting read that makes you think. The ending was a disappointment though.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was soooo good, it kept me so interested. i usually can't finish books, but for some reason this book just makes you want to keep going!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was, without a doubt, fantastic. The first book I have read by this author, I was stunned by how real and true the characters were. It desereves 4 1/2 stars. Its one for everyone. Great!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Even though I find Anne Tyler's characters 'interesting' most of the time I don't like them very much. I LOVED Barnaby!!! He's a lovable looser who finds his niche in the world in spite of family pressures and the fact that hardly anyone trusts him except the old people he serves. What I liked about the book in particular is the descriptions of growing old, what it's like, how difficult it is, how sad, and how fine when it's done with dignity. And I loved the way Barnaby goes from lovable looser to real manhood. Wonderful read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A Patchwork Planet is no different than life itself. Ups and downs, colors and shapes, certainties and uncertainties are intertwined beautifully by Anne Tyler, the pieces slowly moving together to form a very interesting picture. One minute you love Barnaby Gaitlin, the next you are not so sure. Just like any genuine person you know. The end leaves you with the desire to follow and speculate more about these complex characters. This novel would be great as a movie.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read a lot of Anne Tyler, and have learned to stick with her-it always takes a chapter or two to get the whole picture. True for this book as well. At first I had a hard time finding sympathy for her main character, but of course I was won over in the end. As usual, she keeps the reader hanging just a bit at the end, wanting to know more. Loved it anyway.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A Patchwork PLanet has all the makings of a wonderful story, but meanders aimlessly from one 'client' to the next in search of a interesting plot. I had to force myself to finish it. Much like Mrs. Glynn's memory, this book would best be forgotten.