Thursday, August 9

A Patchwork Planet - Anne Tyler

Black sheep Barnaby has never marched in line with his illustrious family - the Gaitlins belong to the Foundation, behave in an upright manner, and live sensible, adult lives. But Barnaby's life shifted somehow when he (alone of his friends) was caught stealing in his teens. Instead of following the life prescribed for him by his socially aspirant mother, demonstrated for him by his text book, model brother, Barnaby finds himself almost thirty, divorced, working as an unskilled labourer, renting a basement and driving to Philly once a month to see his uninspiring, uninteresting young daughter.
When Barnaby's car breaks down he's forced to catch the train instead of driving and, through a fascination with a stranger's errand, his attention is caught and captured by a strange woman. Captivated by her, Barnaby arranges to catch the train again the following week, whereupon he strikes up a conversation with the woman. Her name is Sophia, she visits her mother in Philadelphia every week, and Barnaby finds himself inexplicably drawn to her despite her age (almost a decade older), her reserve and her plumpness. And Sophia seems to like him, too. She engages the services of the company he works for on behalf of her aged aunt, and Sophia and Barnaby drift into a relationship. But when the aunt's life savings go missing, Barnaby become the target of suspicion and his life changes once more.
A Patchwork Planet is a beautifully detailed exploration of family dynamics, expectation and psychology. Her characters are quirky, vibrant and unique; she deals simultaneously with the ordinary and the esoteric, the mundane and what makes us all unique. Tyler's plots manage to be deal with both the minutiae of ordinary lives and explore the great themes that engage us all. Great writing, interesting people, and involving plots equal wonderful and rewarding books. - Alex

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