Read A Patchwork Planet Online

Authors: Anne Tyler

Tags: #United States, #Men - Conduct of life, #Men's Studies, #Social Science, #Men, #Charities, #Fiction, #Psychological, #Family Life, #Literary, #Charities - Maryland - Baltimore, #Baltimore (Md.), #General, #Domestic fiction, #Sagas

A Patchwork Planet

BOOK: A Patchwork Planet
4.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
“Filled with insight and compassion, Anne Tyler’s 14th novel chronicles a year in the life of a 30-year-old ‘loser’ named Barnaby Gaitlin…. Tyler has crafted a remarkably lovable character, a young man as endearing as Macon Leary, the memorable protagonist of her 1985 bestseller,
The Accidental Tourist.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune
“What resonates throughout the novel is Tyler’s gentle wisdom. Her understanding of the complexities of human nature comes across beautifully, making this book a singular treat…. She endows the tale of Barnaby’s eventual self-discovery and redemption with charm, quiet humor and many bittersweet observations on the meaning of emotional connectedness with those around us, the aging process and the ability we all possess to start afresh.”

The Miami Herald
“This could only be Tyler territory, where losers are treated with a tenderness that encourages them to consider winning in the world. In her 14th novel, the persuasive storyteller with the beautiful, unforced style works her familiar ground—family, connection, the quirks of humans—with ease.”

The Miami Herald

Entertainment Weekly
“A Patchwork Planet
is filled with descriptions that summarize an entire way of life in a single image…. [Tyler’s] genius lies in making quotidian events extraordinarily poignant.”

San Francisco Chronicle
“In an uncertain world, it’s reassuring to know for an absolute fact that Anne Tyler’s next novel (and the one after that and the one after that) will cause me to shiver at truths that I recognize but have never heard voiced, pinch me sharply with its poignancy and catch me off guard with funny moments that make me laugh so hard I have to put the book down until I get a grip on myself. Tyler’s 14th novel,
A Patchwork Planet
, does all that.”

San Diego Union Tribune

Tyler’s many admirers are sure to number this among her very best work…. [Her] appealing warmth and flair for eccentric comedy are abundantly displayed in her superb 14th novel.”

Kirkus Reviews
(starred review)
“It is Tyler’s great talent to involve us thoroughly with her characters. With a keen eye for detail and the sense of humanity that she displayed in her 1985 novel
The Accidental Tourist
, Tyler brilliantly portrays their foibles, their disappointments and their hopes. Barnaby Gaitlin is one of her most sympathetic creations.”

“A Patchwork Planet
, Pulitzer Prize-winning Anne Tyler’s 14th novel, finds the black-sheep son of an old Baltimore family attempting to get his life on track…. Recalls Tyler’s early works, such as
Celestial Navigation
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
, which … are peopled by genuine eccentrics whose grip on the world is charmingly, but definitely, precarious … Anne Tyler lovingly captures that world.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Writing with humor and pathos worthy of her previous works, Tyler continues to make distinctive observations about the quirks and peculiarities of domestic life and the struggle of some lost souls to be part of a world where everyone else seems focused on the beaten path.”

Publishers Weekly
(starred review)
“I adore Anne Tyler…. It’s hard to imagine any other writer … whom you can read with such unalloyed pleasure.”

San Jose Mercury News
“This is a wonderful novel—don’t miss it! …
A Patchwork Planet
is like a crazy quilt with familiar fabrics which, when assembled, becomes unique.”

Chattanooga Press

Tyler understands this modest world, both its frustrations and its rewards. With each funny, painful novel, she adds another square to her tapestry of redemption.”

The Christian Science Monitor
“Always entertaining … Anne Tyler once again creates characters that are believable, funny and true…. In Barnaby Gaitlin, Tyler has created a character who looks into the mirror of self-revelation and finds not only flaws but redeeming qualities as well.”

Hartford Courant
“A sophisticated, poignant and carefully crafted chart of the vicissitudes of trust.”

Time Out
New York
“I don’t know whether anyone has called Tyler a
Jane Austen. I guess I’ll do it here. Like Austen’s, Tyler’s books are full of life’s little lessons, closely observed and compassionately recounted…
A Patchwork Planet
is filled with pleasure and pain. That the pleasure triumphs is [Tyler’s] final kindness to us, her readers.”

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
“The novel is wise and funny…. Not only a colorful snapshot of youth but a compassionate picture of old age … With exquisite description and flawless dialogue, Tyler dignifies the lives of miraculously ordinary characters.”

New York Daily News
“Alternately comedic and tragic … With
A Patchwork Planet
, Tyler has once again served up literary comfort food for the soul.”

If Morning Ever Comes
The Tin Can Tree
A Slipping-Down Life
The Clock Winder
Celestial Navigation
Searching for Caleb
Earthly Possessions
Morgan’s Passing
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
The Accidental Tourist
Breathing Lessons
Saint Maybe
Ladder of Years
Back When We Were Grownups
The Amateur Marriage
Digging to America

In loving memory of my husband

you can trust, is how my customers view me. Or at least, I’m guessing it is. Why else would they hand me their house keys before they leave for vacation? Why else would they depend on me to clear their attics for them, heave their air conditioners into their windows every spring, lug their excess furniture to their basements? “Mind your step, young fellow; that’s Hepplewhite,” Mrs. Rodney says, and then she goes into her kitchen to brew a pot of tea. I could get up to anything in that basement. I could unlock the outside door so as to slip back in overnight and rummage through all she owns—her Hepplewhite desk and her Japanese lacquer jewelry box and the six potbellied drawers of her dining-room buffet. Not that I would. But she doesn’t know that. She just assumes it. She takes it for granted that I’m a good person.

Come to think of it, I am the one who doesn’t take it for granted.

• • •

On the very last day of a bad old year, I was leaning against a pillar in the Baltimore railroad station, waiting to catch the 10:10 a.m. to Philadelphia. Philadelphia’s where my little girl lives. Her mother married a lawyer there after we split up.

Ordinarily I’d have driven, but my car was in the shop and so I’d had to fork over the money for a train ticket.
of money. Not to mention being some appointed place at some appointed time, which I hate. Plus, there were a lot more people waiting than I had expected. That airy, light, clean, varnished feeling I generally got in Penn Station had been crowded out. Elderly couples with matching luggage stuffed the benches, and swarms of college kids littered the floor with their duffel bags. This gray-haired guy was walking around speaking to different strangers one by one. Well-off guy, you could tell: tan skin, nice turtleneck, soft beige car coat. He went up to a woman sitting alone and asked her a question. Then he came over to a girl in a miniskirt standing near me. I had been thinking I wouldn’t mind talking to her myself. She had long blond hair, longer than her skirt, which made it seem she’d neglected to put on the bottom half of her outfit. The man said, “Would you by any chance be traveling to Philadelphia?”

“Well, northbound, yes,” she said, in this shallow, breathless voice that came as a disappointment.

“But to Philadelphia?”

“No, New York, but I’ll be—”

“Thanks anyway,” he said, and he moved toward the next bench.

Now he had my full attention. “Ma’am,” I heard him ask an old lady, “are you traveling to Philadelphia?” The old lady answered something too mumbly for me to catch, and instantly he turned to the woman beside her. “Philadelphia?” Notice how he was getting more and more sparing of words. When the woman told him, “Wilmington,” he didn’t say a thing; just plunged on down the row to one of the matched-luggage couples. I straightened up from my pillar and drifted closer, looking toward Gate E as if I had my mind on my train. The wife was telling the man about their New Year’s plans. They were baby-sitting their grandchildren who lived in New York City, she said, and the husband said, “Well, not New York City proper, dear; White Plains,” and the gray-haired man, almost shouting, said, “But my daughter’s counting on me!” And off he raced.

was going to Philadelphia. He could have asked me. I understood why he didn’t, of course. No doubt I struck him as iffy, with my three-day growth of black stubble and my ripped black leather jacket and my jeans all dust and cobwebs from Mrs. Morey’s garage. But still he could have given me a chance. Instead he just flicked his eyes at me and then swerved off toward the bench at the end of the room. By now he was looking seriously undermedicated. “Please!” he said to a woman reading a book. “Tell me you’re going to Philadelphia!”

She lowered her book. She was thirtyish, maybe thirty-five—older than I was, anyhow. A schoolmarm sort, in a wide brown coat with a pattern like feathers all over it. “Philadelphia?” she said. “Why, yes, I am.”

“Then could I ask you a favor?”

I stopped several feet away and frowned down at my left wrist. (Never mind that I don’t own a watch.) Even without looking, I could sense how she went on guard. The man must have sensed it too, because he said, “Nothing too difficult, I promise!”

They were announcing my train now. (“The delayed 10:10,” the loudspeaker called it. It’s always “the delayed” this or that.) People started moving toward Gate E, the older couples hauling their wheeled bags behind them like big, meek pets on leashes. If the woman in the feather coat said anything, I missed it. Next I heard, the man was talking. “My daughter’s flying out this afternoon for a junior semester abroad,” he was saying. “Leaving from Philadelphia; the airline offers a bargain rate if you leave from Philadelphia. So I put her on a train this morning, stopped for groceries afterward, and came home to find my wife in a state. It seems our daughter’d forgotten her passport. She’d telephoned from the station in Philly; didn’t know what to do next.”

The woman clucked sympathetically. I’d have kept quiet myself. Waited to find out where the guy was heading with this.

“So I told her she should stay put. Stay right there in the station, I said, and I would get somebody here to carry up her passport.”

A likely story! Why didn’t he go himself, if this was such an emergency?

“Why don’t you go yourself?” the woman asked him.

“I can’t leave my wife alone that long. She’s in a wheelchair: Parkinson’s.”

This seemed like a pretty flimsy excuse, if you want my honest opinion. Also, it exceeded what I would consider the normal quota for misfortunes. Not only a lamebrain daughter, but a wife with a major disease! I let my eyes wander toward the two of them. The woman was gazing up into the man’s face, pooching her mouth out thoughtfully. The man was holding a packet. He must have pulled it from his car coat: not a manila envelope, which would have been the logical choice, but one of those padded mailers the size of a paperback book. Aha! Padded! So you couldn’t feel the contents! And from where I stood, it looked to be stapled shut besides.
Watch yourself lady
, I said silently.

As if she’d heard me, she told the man, “I hope this isn’t some kind of contraband.” Except she pronounced it “counter-band,” which made me think she must not be a schoolmarm, after all.

“No, no!” the man told her. He gave a huff of a laugh. “No, I can assure you it’s not counterband.”

Was he repeating her mistake on purpose? I couldn’t tell. (Or maybe the word really
“counterband.”) Meanwhile, the loudspeaker came to life again. The delayed 10:10 was now boarding. Train wheels squealed below me. “I’ll do it,” the woman decided.

“Oh, wonderful! That’s wonderful! Thanks!” the man told her, and he handed her the packet. She was already rising. Instead of a suitcase, she had one of those tote things that could have been just a large purse, and she fitted the strap over her shoulder and lined up the packet with the book she’d been reading. “So let’s see,” the man was saying. “You’ve got light-colored hair, you’re wearing a brown print coat…. I’ll call the pay phone where my daughter’s waiting and let her know who to watch for. She’ll be standing at Information when you get there. Esther Brimm, her name is—a redhead. You can’t miss that hair of hers. Wearing jeans and a blue-jean jacket. Ask if she’s Esther Brimm.”

He followed the woman through the double doors and down the stairs, although he wasn’t supposed to. I was close behind. The cold felt good after the packed waiting room. “And you are?” the man was asking.

Affected way of putting it. They arrived on the platform and stopped short, so that I just about ran over them. The woman said, “I’m Sophia—” and then something like “Maiden” that I couldn’t exactly hear. (The train was in place but rumbling, and passengers were clip-clopping by.) “In case we miss connections, though …,” she said, raising her voice.

In case they missed connections, he should put his name and phone number on the mailer. Any fool would know that much. But he seemed to have his mind elsewhere. He said, “Um … now, do you live in Baltimore? I mean, are you coming
to Baltimore, or is Philly your end destination?”

I almost laughed aloud at that. So! Already he’d forgotten he was grateful; begun to question his angel of mercy’s reliability. But she didn’t take offense. She said, “Oh, I’m a
Baltimorean. This is just an overnight visit to my mother. I do it every weekend: take the ten-ten Patriot Saturday morning and come back sometime Sunday.”

“Well, then!” he said. “Well. I certainly do appreciate this.”

“It’s no trouble at all,” she said, and she smiled and turned to board.

I had been hoping to sit next to her. I was planning to start a conversation—mention I’d overheard what the man had asked of her and then suggest the two of us check the contents of his packet. But the car was nearly full, and she settled down beside a lady in a fur hat. The closest I could manage was across the aisle to her left and one row back, next to a black kid wearing earphones. Only view I had was a schoolmarm’s netted yellow bun and a curve of cheek.

Well, anyhow, why was I making this out to be such a big deal? Just bored, I guess. I shucked my jacket off and sat forward to peer in my seat-back pocket. A wrinkly McDonald’s bag, a napkin stained with ketchup, a newspaper section folded to the crossword puzzle. The puzzle was only half done, but I didn’t have a pen on me. I looked over at the black kid. He probably didn’t have a pen, either, and anyhow he was deep in his music—long brown fingers tapping time on his knees.

Then just beyond him, out the window, I chanced to notice the passport man talking on the phone. Talking on the phone? Down here beside the tracks? Sure enough: one of those little cell phones you all the time see obnoxious businessmen showing off in public. I leaned closer to the window. Something here was weird, I thought. Maybe he smuggled drugs, or worked for the CIA. Maybe he was a terrorist. I wished I knew how to read lips. But already he was closing his phone, slipping it into his pocket, turning to go back upstairs. And our train was sliding out of the station.

I looked again at the woman. At the packet, to be specific.

It was resting on top of her book, which sat in her feather-print lap. (She would be the type who stayed properly buttoned into her coat, however long the trip.) Where the mailer was folded over, staples ran straight across in a nearly unbroken line. But staples were no problem. She could pry them up with, say, a nail file or a dime, and slip them out undetectably, and replace them when she was finished.
Do it
, I told her in my head. She was gazing past her seatmate, out the right-hand window. I couldn’t even see her cheek now; just her bun.

Back in the days when I was a juvenile delinquent, I used to break into houses and read people’s private mail. Also photo albums. I had a real thing about photo albums. The other kids who broke in along with me, they’d be hunting car keys and cigarettes and booze. They’d be tearing through closets and cabinets all around me, while I sat on the sofa poring over somebody’s wedding pictures. And even when I took stuff, it was always personal stuff. This little snow globe once from a nightstand in a girl’s bedroom. Another time, a brass egg that stood on scaly claw feet and opened to show a snapshot of an old-fashioned baby inside. I’m not proud of this. I’d sooner confess to jewel theft than to pocketing six letters tied up with satin ribbon, which is what I did when we jimmied the lock at the Empreys’ place one night. But there you are. What can I say.

So when this Sophia woman let the packet stay untouched—didn’t prod it, didn’t shake it, didn’t tease apart the merest corner of the flap—I felt something like, oh, almost envy. A huge wave of envy. I started wishing
could be like that. Man, I’d have been tearing into that packet with my bare teeth, if I’d had the chance.

The conductor came and went, and the row houses slipping by turned into factory buildings and then to matted woods and a sheet of gray water, but I was barely conscious of anything beyond Sophia’s packet. I saw how quietly her hands rested on the brown paper; she was not a fidgeter. Smooth, oval nails, pale pink, and plump white fingers like a woman’s in a religious painting. Her book was turned the wrong way for me to read the title, but I knew it was something worthwhile and educational. Oh, these people who prepare ahead! Who think to bring actual books, instead of dashing into a newsstand at the last minute for a
Sports Illustrated
or—worse yet—making do with a crossword puzzle that someone else has started!

It bothered me more than I liked to admit that the passport man had avoided me.

We were getting close to Wilmington, and the lady in the fur hat started collecting her things. After she left, I planned to change seats. I would wait for Sophia to shift over to the window, and then I’d sit down next to her. “Morning,” I would say. “Interesting packet you’ve got there.”

“I see you’re carrying some kind of packet.”

“Mind if I inquire what’s in that packet?”

Or whatever. Something would come to me. But when the train stopped and the lady stood up, Sophia just turned her knees to one side to let her out. She stayed seated where she was, on the aisle, so I didn’t see any natural-seeming way to make my move.

BOOK: A Patchwork Planet
4.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Chain of Fools by Richard Stevenson
Fifth Gospel by Adriana Koulias
Untrusting (Troubled) by Wells, A. J.
The Mystery of the Black Raven by Gertrude Chandler Warner
I'm the One That I Want by Margaret Cho
Blackout by Chris Myers