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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A hopeful look at how a life can be recovered from its past.
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.
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!
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.
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.