Details: (c) Anne Tyler 1998; Pub Penguin Books 1999; ISBN 0-14-027552-5
Verdict: A patchwork planet is a thought-provoking character piece.
Reasons for reading it: darcydodo's mom introduced me to Anne Tyler and I really enjoy her writing.
How it came into my hands: Second hand book shop in Berkeley. Anne Tyler seems to turn up quite a lot second hand, particularly in America. I get the impression she's somewhat an American equivalent of Joanna Trollope over here: people will buy anything she writes, but read it once and then give it away.
The characterization of Barnaby Gaitlin is absolutely beautiful, and there are wonderful glimpses of other people even though the story is told entirely from his first person perspective. And A patchwork planet is a sort of quirky social portrait with lots of little observations on what's important in life, without ever being didactic. At a surface level there's not a lot in the way of plot, but in fact aPP has a very careful structure even if it's not one that is pegged on the expected story with a beginning, middle and end.
I really related to Barnaby and wanted things to go well for him, and it was that that kept me reading. That's a particularly impressive achievement given that Barnaby is not the sort of viewpoint character I normally like. And I was surprised by how moving I found aPP. It works well as a rather cute little portrait of the lives of some unremarkable but very human people, but it's also more profound than that, in the gentlest possible way.
Yes, this happens to be the kind of book I really like, people-focused more than plot focused. But it's a really good example of the genre, and I think strong even compared to Tyler's generally good writing.