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A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler
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A Patchwork Planet (1998)

by Anne Tyler

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Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
This is a different type of book than what I usually choose for myself, but it was in a box I received from a networking contact. It started out kind of slowly, but the characters grew on me. I liked the idea of "Rent-a-Back", where people who needed help with household chores could call an agency to get help, and wished we had something like that in this area. Barnaby seems to have found some true friends within that company. ( )
  JenniferRobb | Dec 2, 2017 |
This novel tells the story of a young man, Barnaby Gaitlin, who’s very much the black sheep of a successful family. The Gaitlins have made a fortune in business and run a charitable foundation, while Barnaby’s older brother Jeff is a model son, with a perfect family and career. Faced with the realisation that his parents disapprove of him, Barnaby has rebelled and completely dropped out of this money and status-driven existence. With an adolescence of petty crime and reform school as well as a divorce behind him, he works in a low-paid manual labour job that his parents see as being beneath a member of such a renowned family. He lives in a basement, has no money and dresses like a tramp, causing his mother especially to nag him to change his ways and be more like his brother.

We soon learn that all the Gaitlin men throughout the generations have, at some time or other, encountered an ‘angel’, a woman who suddenly appeared to them for a moment and conveyed a supernatural message that changed the course of their lives. The novel opens with a chance meeting at a railway station that leads Barnaby to wonder whether he too has finally met his angel, the woman who will transform his directionless life...

This is a very funny novel that creates humour and drama out of the mundane events of one person’s life. It is written in the first person and I loved the voice of Barnaby – he is very observant and perceptive about those around him: the family he gets frustrated with, and his colleagues and clients at Rent-a-Back, the company he works for, carrying out odd-jobs and DIY for people who can’t manage it themselves. I also liked the clear and precise writing style, which, although fairly unadorned and unshowy, somehow immerses the reader immediately into Barnaby’s world. Barnaby is an engaging character. He sees himself as being pretty much a worthless person, as do certain neighbours and members of his family, but the reader can see clearly that he’s actually kind-hearted and very sympathetic to his clients, although he denies any praise with lines such as ‘None of my customers had the least inkling of my true nature’. His family see his job as pointless, without any future, but it’s clear that Barnaby makes a huge difference in the lives of the often lonely and elderly people he works for.

This novel has a large cast of characters, including Barnaby’s ex-wife and daughter, his family, colleagues and old school friends. For this reason, it seems rather meandering at times but it still kept me interested throughout. His eccentric clients and awkward family get-togethers are all conveyed wonderfully. I liked the way the book portrayed relationships developing slowly, and showed that people can be attracted to others without realising it at first. The reader can enjoy being one step ahead of Barnaby, seeing what isn’t obvious to him, and predicting what’s going to happen to him next. But A Patchwork Planet also shows how life can be complicated and relationships ambiguous, and it certainly doesn’t wrap everything up neatly. I think one of the main ideas expressed is that all our connections in life, whoever we interact with, contribute to giving life meaning. It’s quite a cheering book that is ideal to read curled up on a dull, rainy afternoon. ( )
  papercat | Jun 27, 2017 |
I picked this up for a funny reason. I am writing a novel with a “passive” main character and heard that by Anne Tyler had done this masterfully in A Patchwork Planet. So I was looking for her technique – the problem is she does it so seamlessly that I was hardly aware of any technique – or I was so absorbed in the novel that I forgot to analyze the writing.
Her protagonist, Barnaby is a misfit (his wealthy family would say a loser) but an endearing one who works for a service company called “Rent-a-Back” and struggles to get his life together. He progresses at a snail’s pace but we find ourselves rooting for his little victories and despairing over any rejections. ( )
  CindaMac | Mar 26, 2017 |
Barnaby Gaitlin grew up in a family that was of the "old Baltimore" world, but he wasn't living in that style. Instead he was working for "Rent-a-Back" doing odd jobs for seniors who needed things moved or organized or just needed help with chores. This job earned him a wage that kept the rent paid on his rented room and money to go visit his daughter on visitation day.

He had gotten into this situation because of his "habit" of breaking and entering peoples' homes. He didn't do it to steal so much as he liked to read other peoples' mail, look in their photo albums and some times take a small souvenir or two, back when he was a teenager. His parents paid off his "victims" and still hold it over his head.

His ex-wife had remarried and would be just as happy if he no longer showed up for visitation as she had moved up the food chain and wanted to forget that part of her life. His daughter, Opal, wasn't quite sure what to make of it all.

On one of his trips to see his daughter, he meets a woman in the train station. She seems steady, nice and interested in him. They develop a relationship that seems comfortable, but takes a turn when a few bumps in the road come along. The smooth cruise gets a little rough.

Trust, belief in yourself and others, and relationships and how they can change are all part of this story. Written in an engaging style that draws you along the path through Barnaby's world, with all the twists and turns in life.

Anne Tyler's writing style is very enjoyable and her story lines keep you wanting to read more. ( )
  ChazziFrazz | Jun 23, 2016 |
thanks bookcrossing for expanding my horizons - I'd never have picked this up on my own, but I'm sure glad BC caused it to come into my hands - charming, insightful, a quick read but the ideas will stay with you...
( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Anne Tylerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Mossel, BabetTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
In loving memory of my husband, Taghi Modarressi
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I am a man you can trust, is how my customers view me.
Quotations
Back in Baltimore’s golden age, when the streetcars were still running and downtown was still the place to go and we had four top-notch department stores all on the same one block: Hutzler’s, Hochschild’s, Stewart’s, and Hecht’s... (Rent-A-Back client)
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0449003981, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:36 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A lovable loser tries to get his life in order. He is Barnaby Gaitlin, 30, the black sheep of a rich Baltimore family, ex-juvenile delinquent who specialized in housebreaking for kicks. He works for Rent-a-Back, moving furniture for old people, and dreams of having a future.… (more)

» see all 5 descriptions

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