Friday, March 27, 2015
Book Review: A PATCHWORK PLANET by Anne Tyler
I am a very private person. People who stare, eavesdrop, and snoop have always annoyed me. Because I want other people to respect my privacy, I always set an example by respecting their privacy. So, when I read the opening story of A PATCHWORK PLANET, in which the main character got his jollies burglarizing houses in his neighborhood in a unique way, I wanted to know more about what made this character tick. He did not steal for money. He broke into people's homes to snoop and take sentimental items. Somehow, the idea of coming home to find a burglar going through my family photo albums is more disturbing than the idea of finding someone raiding my jewelry box. The story felt so fresh to me that I couldn't pass it up.
My gamble paid off. This was the first book I've read in a long time that I had a hard time putting down. When my Kindle's battery died, I felt like I had just gone through a break up of a long-term relationship, and could not wait for it to recharge so that I could pick up where I left off in the life of Barnaby Gaitlin.
Ironically, Barnaby finds himself in a position doing odd jobs around the homes of the elderly and disabled. These people know nothing about his past and have no qualms with giving him spare keys to their homes.
Ultimately, the story is about trust. Can we as readers trust Barnaby or not? Can Barnaby trust the other people in his life? Can they trust him? Can he trust himself?
The story weaves back and forth between actions that border on sainthood and actions that show a complete lack of morals on the part of both Barnaby and the other characters in the story. There seems to be this futile effort of characters trying to change each other, put each other down, bring each other up, and understand each other, even when the characters don't understand themselves. Anne Tyler's insight into people is truly amazing.
This is the wonderful thing about a well written story: It resembles a patchwork planet. We see snippets of a character's life, and while it all seems to be just jumble of different experiences sewn together, it forms one cohesive unit with meaning, lessons, regressions, and growth. Tyler does an excellent job of showing cause and effect regarding how words and actions affect the feelings, words and actions of others. Whether the characters in this story are angels, devils, or just plain human is left up for you to decide.
I'm looking forward to reading another one of her books.