Featured Reading Guide
Barnaby Gaitlin is a loser – just short of thirty he’s the black sheep of a philanthropic Baltimore family. Once upon a time he had a home, a loving wife, a little family of his own; now he has an ex-wife, a 9-year old daughter with attitude, a Corvette Sting Ray that’s a collector’s item but unreliable, and he works as hired muscle for Rent -a-Back, doing heavy chores for old folks. He has an almost patholo-gical curiosity about other people’s lives, which has got him into serious trouble in the past, and a hopeless charm which attracts the kind of angelic woman who wants to save him from himself…
About the Book
Barnaby Gaitlin is a loser – just short of thirty he’s the black sheep of a philanthropic Baltimore family. Once upon a time he had a home, a loving wife, a little family of his own; now he has an ex-wife, a 9-year old daughter with attitude, a Corvette Sting Ray that’s a collector’s item but unreliable, and he works as hired muscle for Rent -a-Back, doing heavy chores for old folks. He has an almost patholo-gical curiosity about other people’s lives, which has got him into serious trouble in the past, and a hopeless charm which attracts the kind of angelic woman who wants to save him from himself. Tyler’s observation is more acute, more delicious than ever; her humour slyer and more irresistible; her characters so vividly realised that you feel you’ve known this quirky collection for ever. With perfect pitch and poise, humour and humanity, Anne Tyler chronicles, better than any writer today, the sublime and the ridiculous of everyday living, the foibles and frailties of the ordinary human heart.top
Anne Tyler interview/review
Bookbrowse.com, October 2002
1. Your protagonist in this novel, Barnaby Gaitlin, has been described as an average, ordinary man. Is this how you would describe him?
I think Barnaby is average and ordinary only to the extent that most people are average and ordinary—that is, not very, if you look carefully enough.
2. Barnaby is, among other things, a man struggling to cast off the weight of his past. How successful is he, and indeed any of us, in doing so?
I do believe that Barnaby is at least largely successful in getting out from under the weight of his past—that’s where the plot derives its movement.
3. At the close of this novel, we are left wondering just exactly who is Barnaby’s angel. How would you answer this question?
Barnaby has not just one but many angels—the network of people he lives among who see him for the good man he is and wish him well and do what they can to ease his life.
4. How did you come to choose writing as your life’s work, and what sustains you in this often solitary vocation?
I didn’t really choose to write; I more or less fell into it. It’s true that it’s a solitary occupation, but you would be surprised at how much companionship a group of imaginary characters can offer once you get to know them.
5. How does the writing process work for you? Has it changed over the years?
I never think about the actual process of writing. I suppose I have a superstition about examining it too closely.top
Starting Points for Discussion
- Barnaby Gaitlin seems to be a sympathetic and likeable character. How far can we as readers trust the narrator? Does our view of him change as the story unfolds?
- Familial relations are very quickly established as a central theme of this novel – why do you think the author concentrates so finely on the family? It is a positive portrayal?
- The author presents a great array of characters throughout A Patchwork Planet – from the irksome Len Parrish to the kindly Pop-Pop. How far is our perception of these characters coloured by Barnaby’s view point?
- How convincingly does the author, as a woman, capture the male narrative voice? Do the various gender relationships in the novel give an optimistic view of relations between men and women?
- From the opening scene at the train station the novel is interspersed with humorous and quirky episodes. How well do you think these sit amongst the more serious emotional tangles within the story?
- At one point it looks as though the introduction of Sophia will represent a solution to Barnaby’s problems, but then this is further complicated. Why do you think the author avoids an over-simplified, neat relationship?
Other Books by Anne Tyler
A Patchwork Planet
Barnaby Gaitlin is a loser – just short of thirty he’s the black sheep of a …
A Slipping Down Life
In a small Southern town teenager Evie Decker becomes obsessed with local rock…
A Tin Can Tree
When young Jamie Pike dies in a tragic accident, she leaves behind a family …
Back When We Were Grownups…
When Joe Davitch first saw Rebecca, it was at a party at the Davitch home – a…
Breathing Lessons covers the events of a day in the life of Maggie Moran, …
Jeremy Pauling is a thirty-eight-year-old batchelor who has never left home. He…
Digging to America
Friday August 15th, 1997. The night the girls arrived. Two tiny Korean babies…
Suggested Further Reading
- Welcome to the World Baby Girl ~ Fannie Flagg
- Here on Earth ~ Alice Hoffman
- Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage ~ Alice Munro
- Never Change ~ Elizabeth Berg
- Larry’s Party ~ Carol Shields