A patchwork planet

by Anne Tyler

Paper Book, 1998





London : Chatto & Windus, 1998.


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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member _________jt_________
This book stretches believability until it snaps right off. The major problem with this book is the exceedingly unrealistic depiction of its twentysomething drunken slacker protagonist/narrator.

The twentysomething drunken slacker protagonist/narrator speaks, thinks, and acts like a sixty-year-old woman (coincidentally, Anne Tyler was a sixty-year-old woman when she wrote this). In his "juvenile delinquency" (he actually describes himself as a former juvenile delinquent -- does anyone ever really do that?), he pulled such crazy hijinks as breaking into people's houses to rifle through their photo albums, leaving his friends to raid the liquor cabinet and jewelry box. My suspension of disbelief breaks down at this point. If you're the type of person who breaks into houses, you're not the type of person who stops to look through their pictures. And if you ARE the type of person who breaks into houses to look at pictures, you won't typically have the opportunity to do that, because you're locked inside a room where all the walls are soft.

The twentysomething drunken slacker protagonist/narrator also possesses inexplicable expertise in all sorts of women's fashions. The narrator never stumbles over a clothing description (and there are many), whether it's an A-line skirt, frock, or shift. I myself have no idea what a frock or shift is, and I've watched far too much Project Runway and What Not to Wear.

The twentysomething drunken slacker protagonist/narrator describes his experience with smoking weed as having "taken a puff or two" of "the harder stuff". This is when talking to another allegedly normal person, who is shocked and a little impressed by this bad-to-the-bone renegade. If I ever met someone who told me they had "taken a puff or two" of "the harder stuff", I would take off my shoe and hit them in the face with it for being such a cutesy little shit. The twentysomething drunken slacker protagonis/narrator also cannot handle the word "condom", so he dances around it whenever he has sex (or at least I guess he has sex; he dances around that topic to an absurd degree as well), which is rarely. He even gets the uncontrollable shakes when he's cornered into saying the word "mattress" in front a woman.

Sure, feeble attempts are made to explain away all this bullshit. He's a photo-looking cat-burglar because he had a bad mom. He knows about women's fashions because his great-grandfather patented a dress form. He has dirty-word issues because he works around old people. None of these excuses are as believable to me, though, as the alternative explanation -- that Anne Tyler has never been a twentysomething drunken slacker, and probably has never even met one, and probably should not attempt to write about one.
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LibraryThing member turtlesleap
At 30, Barnaby Gaitlin has an ex-wife, a daughter with whom he has no meaningful relatinship, a juvenile criminal record, a family he can't stand to be around and a job. The job is "manual labor," providing a strong back to help the elderly and infirm of Baltimore, where he lives. Barnaby is a good guy, notwithstanding his past and his consistent refusal to conform to other's expectations of him. As the book unfolds, a new romance appears to be opening up for him--one that the reader will quickly suspect is not a good choice for him. Sub-plots abound as Barnaby's clients grow older, grow ill and die with depressing frequency and the reader shares his attachement to them. This is sweet book, easy to read and simple but leaving behind it an echo of complex issues that demand to be considered.… (more)
LibraryThing member Black_samvara
Barnaby Gaitlin is divorced, an ex-delinquent, the black sheep of his neurotic family and the owner of a fabulous car he doesn't appreciate. He works for Rent-a-Back doing odd jobs for elderly clients and his wry narration and baffled response to the world around him is very enjoyable. I also appreciated his complete inability to not stuff things up, the man has an auto-destruct response to things going well and the scene where he almost gooses his brother's wife had me reading in horrified anticipation.… (more)
LibraryThing member bobbieharv
Not one of her usual plots, so a bit refreshing, but not as funny as some of her other books.
LibraryThing member hammockqueen
Wonderful characters. Kept my interest. Really love Tyler's writing. Barnaby, the black sheep, works for 'rent a back' and helps the elderly on an hourly basis. Lots of insights into older peoples' needs and a non-pretentious mans work in his simple world.
LibraryThing member xuesheng
Barnaby Gaitlan works for an organization called Rent-a-Back. He works with old people all day doing errands around their homes. His job is interesting because when he was young he broke into people's homes to read their personal mail, look through their photo albums, and take a personal item. Now he is invited in to do their work and learn about their lives. The people he works with trust him. However, when a problem arises, will his new girlfriend trust him too? An enjoying read!… (more)
LibraryThing member MeganRulloda
This book kept my interest. It's odd though, because it's not like anything really pulled me to this book, but the flow of it just kept me reading and reading and reading.

This is the story of Barnaby, an outcast in his family, and his search for identity and contentment. I'm not sure I liked the ending, but it left me thinking about it a few days later, which is unusual for me.… (more)
LibraryThing member mhgatti
As sure as they're going to based in Baltimore, Tyler's novels are also going to concern one's place in (and obligation to) their family. Planet deals not only with a college dropout's relationship with his upwardly mobile family, but his work family - the elderly Baltimoreans he does odd jobs for - as well.

The backbone of the novel is trust - mainly, whether all the work that goes into building trust is worth it. That's kind of serious sounding, but the story is actually pretty light. Maybe a little too light. The lack of a more substantial story prevented this from being a great book, but Tyler's realistic dialogue (from both young and elderly characters) and offbeat sense of humor make it worth reading.… (more)
LibraryThing member louisville
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 liked to break into other people's houses, mostly to read their mail, look at their photo albums and take a few small 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. He is divorced and on a trip to Philadelphia to see his young daughter, Barney meets Sophia and his life takes a different turn. This is vintage Anne Tyler, sharp, funny and tender.… (more)
LibraryThing member marialondon
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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LibraryThing member whirled
I must say I felt Anne Tyler stretched the credibility of her protagonist a tad too far this time around. Barnaby Gaitlin's past as a petty criminal who breaks into people's houses in order to look through their old photo albums was more silly than quirky. Aside from that, he was a typical Tyler hero, flawed but likable, trying to find his place within his family and the world at large. And, the disastrous family dinner towards the end is another of her masterful set pieces. I've read quite a few of her novels now and I think it's fair to say Tyler's stories are somewhat formulaic, which is, oddly, part of their appeal. Reading Anne Tyler is as comforting as hot chocolate on a wintry day - guaranteed to brighten your mood.… (more)
LibraryThing member joyleppin
Anne Tyler's books always strike a chord with me.
LibraryThing member jayne_charles
The first Anne Tyler I attempted, and I was impressed with her writing style, characterisation and occasional humour. The plot seemed to take a back seat, but I didn't mind too much as long as the writing was interesting. I particularly liked the lengthy description of 'old folks', though I suspect old folks may not.
LibraryThing member magst
My all time favorite book! The characters pull you in and don't let go until the very end. If you are looking for something to immerse yourself in this summer, then look no further.
LibraryThing member bastet
A wonderful book about a man who thinks he's following an angel until it turns out he's met the woman of his dreams. He also redeems himself as a man who can help others. One of Tyler's better efforts.
LibraryThing member PilgrimJess
This was the first of Anne Tyler's books that I have read.I enjoyed the book and the main character Barnaby Gaitlin. On the whole I felt that it was a 'nature or nurture' sort of story and reasonably well done but in the end I felt that it had one major flaw, there is virtually no dialogue between two males, it is virtually all all between Barnaby and various females. This can be a danger when a member of one gender makes the lead character a member of the other sex. Some succeed but too many fail IMHO.… (more)
LibraryThing member JenJ.
October 2008 selection for COTC Book Club.

A hopeful look at how a life can be recovered from its past.
LibraryThing member ChazziFrazz
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.
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LibraryThing member moonshineandrosefire
Barnaby Gaitlin is a loser - a charming, lovable loser, perhaps - but a loser nonetheless. As a teenager, he had a bad habit of breaking into other people's houses. Although, it was never about stealing like it was for his teenage cohorts; Barnaby just liked to read other people's mail, pore over their family photo albums, and appropriate a few of their precious mementos. He had been in trouble ever since adolescence, but now, at just short of thirty years old, he was attempting to get his life in order.

For eleven years, he's been working steadily for Rent-a-Back, renting his back to old folks and shut-ins who need help moving their furniture or bringing Christmas trees down from the attic. At long 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 prefer that he never showed up to visit their little girl, Opal. Overall, Barnaby is still seen by everyone as the black sheep of a philanthropic family - who, instead of attending an Ivy League college and working for his family's charitable foundation - got sent to a reform school for wealthy boys as a teenager, and now works as a manual laborer. A distinct disappointment for the affluent and well-connected Gaitlin family of Baltimore.

Barnaby has spent the majority of his adult life trying to live up to his family's high ideals, failing miserably to fully atone for his teenage sins in their estimation. Eventually, a woman enters Barnaby's life, a woman he views as his guardian angel. Her name is Sophia, and even though she seems to have designs on him, she still doesn't entirely trust him. However, Sophia will ultimately change Barnaby's life in ways no one, least of all Barnaby himself, could ever imagine.

I truly appreciated reading this book. I will admit, the story was sort of humdrum with not much going on in the plot; but in my opinion, the book was certainly well-written and charming. I was thoroughly entertained and give this book an A!
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LibraryThing member waltonlibrary
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 ...
LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
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...
LibraryThing member Michael_Godfrey
Hauntingly beautiful - but then Tyler does that so well. I want to journey on with the narration: should Barnaby end up with Sophia-the-crooked-but-straight-but bent or Marline the crooked-but-straight? And is the only angel the one that saves him from his own desires? A book that will stay with me a long time.
LibraryThing member pegmcdaniel
I had this book on my bookshelf for years and just now got around to reading it. I am so glad I did!! It's a "wonderful novel," just like it says on the front cover. I didn't want to put it down. I won't go into the plot since so many reviews do. I'll just say it's worth reading because it tells about loneliness, families, the elderly and kindness. The author beings it all together in a manner that is sometimes sad, sometimes funny. Her characters are memorable, especially her protagonist who sees himself as a failure, but is really a warm-hearted, hard-working, caring man. I highly recommend this novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member papercat
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.
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LibraryThing member CindaMac
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.
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