(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 508 words.)