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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 508

Although Anne Tyler had previously used male protagonists in her fiction, until A Patchwork Planet she had never had a male first-person narrator. However, since the novel is about Barnaby Gaitlin’s discovery of his own identity, the author’s decision to let Barnaby tell his own story was a wise one.

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Although Anne Tyler had previously used male protagonists in her fiction, until A Patchwork Planet she had never had a male first-person narrator. However, since the novel is about Barnaby Gaitlin’s discovery of his own identity, the author’s decision to let Barnaby tell his own story was a wise one.

A Patchwork Planet begins on New Year’s Eve and ends on the following Christmas. Whenever the socially prominent Gaitlins have one of their ceremonial gatherings, they make it clear that they are ashamed of Barnaby. In his youth, he was arrested for housebreaking and escaped punishment only because his parents paid a hefty sum as restitution. Barnaby has never repaid them. He dropped out of college, and though his family offered him a job at their Gaitlin Foundation, instead he took a job with Rent-a-Back, which assigns employees to perform chores for those who are ill or elderly. Barnaby has not even succeeded at marriage. His wife, Natalie, left him because he lacked both money and social standing. Now remarried and living in Baltimore, she discourages his visits to their daughter, Opal, whom Natalie is rearing to be as snobbish and superficial as she is.

At thirty, Barnaby is pinning his hopes on a visitation from the Gaitlin angel, which showed one family member how to make a fortune and kept another from losing everything. At the beginning of the novel, Barnaby toys with the idea that a beautiful young woman whom he observed in the Baltimore train station may indeed be that angel. Although he later realizes that Sophia Maynard is not a supernatural being but an ordinary bank employee, he recognizes her as an energetic woman who he thinks has a loving heart. Unfortunately, he misjudges her, for when her elderly mother accuses him of stealing money from her, Sophia believes that Barnaby is guilty.

Although eventually the missing money is found, Barnaby breaks off with Sophia, who he now knows is a carbon copy of his former wife. However, the incident has shown Barnaby how many people admire him. His clients besieged his employer with requests for his services, thus making sure that he would not be fired. Moreover, one of his fellow employees, Martine Pasko, risked her own job in order to help him. Although, as the story ends, Barnaby has still not had a visitation from the family angel, he now believes that Martine may well be its earthly manifestation.

A Patchwork Planet derives its title from a quilt representing Planet Earth that Barnaby’s client Mrs. Alford was determined to finish before she died. With its imperfect pieces and its uneven stitches, the quilt seemed to be a metaphor for human life. It fell as short of perfection as Barnaby Gaitlin does. To her grieving daughter, however, Mrs. Alford’s quilt seemed beautiful. As Barnaby comes to see, it is loving acts, not material objects, that give life its meaning, and a person who has the skill and the inclination to perform such acts of grace is truly successful.

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