A Patchwork Planet

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Our new selection for April. I'm about halfway finished with it. So far I don't like it as much as other Anne Tyler novels, but it's pretty good. Thoughts?

-- Beth (beth@xeney.com), April 13, 2000



I finished it, but only because it was short.

The author's descriptions of the elderly clients, the physical, mental and emotional changes that occur as they approach the ends of their lives, were very well written. The passages concerning the slow, steady destruction of the human body and mind... The loneliness and the eventually loss of independence, leading to the reliance upon virtual strangers... I am going to marry a younger man so that I don't have to grow old alone after my children move on and I bury my husband!

I enjoyed reading about Barnaby's relationships with his clients, co- workers and especially with Sophia; but I found his relationships with his family, particularly with Natalie & Opal, didn't ring true. I was satisfied that he had found his calling (and likely his future) helping others via the business and had come to terms with his past and his family of origin, but I was very dissatisfied with the outcome of his romantic relationship(s). It had never crossed my mind that Sophia had replaced the money in spite of the fact that she thought he had stolen it, I assumed that she had done so to keep the family peace with an old, forgetful aunt. I found it insulting that the author would suggest that a woman would go to such lengths to support a man she believed was dishonest, entirely because she wanted a man, *any* man, so badly. I think I'm a pretty 'definate' woman and had I thought he was guilty I would have thrown him out on his ass!

I read this book and Bridget Jones The Edge of Reason yesterday and *much* preferred the latter! Sad commentary on the Tyler book, I know...

-- Cathy (capdvm@sprint.ca), April 22, 2000.

I went downstairs and found The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler. I'm going to start that one now (the dog trainer will get me through it even if I don't like it ). I'm sure a lot of others will have read it already so perhaps we can discuss it as well? Compare with A Patchwork Planet?

-- Cathy (capdvm@sprint.ca), April 22, 2000.

I read The Accidental Tourist and liked it much better! (Even if I didn't agree with her dog training methods. ) Other recommendations by Anne Tyler?

(I was sick this past weekend & had time to read four books. What a luxury! No BF, no relatives, no Easter visitors, no outings and only emergencies at work... I gotta be sick more often.)

-- Cathy (capdvm@sprint.ca), April 25, 2000.

I'm going to include a link to a review of Anne Tyler in today's weblog; be sure to check that out.

I've read every one of her books, and I have to say this one is probably my least favorite. There's nothing I can put my finger on, and I'm not quite finished with it yet (two chapters left to go -- I usually read her books in a day), but it's just not grabbing me. It feels like a rehash of many of her other books. There is a real sameness to her quirky characters and dysfunctional families, and her characters always feel detached from their own emotions as well as the world around them, as if they were missing some fundamental perceptory abilities. That's part of her charm, but in the case of A Patchwork Planet, that detachment is having the effect of making me not care.

My favorite Anne Tyler? Probably Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. I also loved Breathing Lessons, Earthly Possessions, Searching for Caleb (do I have that title right?), The Clockwinder, and eventually The Accidental Tourist, although I had to read that one three times before it grew on me. (I hated the movie. I detest William Hurt, and in the movie it just made no sense for him to choose Geena Davis over Kathleen Turner.)

I'm a little iffier on Morgan's Passing and A Slipping Down Life. Actually, I'm not iffy on that last one; I didn't like it at all. A Patchwork Planet is reminding me far too much of A Slipping Down Life.

Note that I've read all of these at least three or four times, even the ones I didn't like. The exceptions are two of the newer ones -- Ladder of Years and Saint Maybe, which for some reason just didn't grab me the same way. They each felt like a retread of earlier work, which is also the way I feel about the new one. Too bad.

Does anyone remember the name of the one about the guy named Ben Joe? I can't remember any details; I think he was a law student. That's the only one that I don't have a copy of. I call my cat "Benjoe" after that character.

-- Beth (beth@xeney.com), April 26, 2000.

The Ben Joe book is called If Morning Ever Comes. I haven't read it for years but I think I have it at home, somewhere and maybe I'll take it out again. Another one I really liked was Tin Can Tree--about the little girl who dies and the repercussions of her early death. I'm trying to remember the name of the book where the girl cuts the name of the singer into her forehead: Is that A Slipping Down Life? I tried to do my college thesis on Anne Tyler and I didn't get much support from the english department. There isn't enough criticism out there on her, apparently....God forbid we form our own opinions and back them up with our own arguments.

-- Erica (ericakeating@yahoo.com), April 26, 2000.

I wrote a baby review of this book on http://www.lucidity.au.com/00/march/20.html (scroll riiiight down past me in the wetsuit to the box at the bottom). I have always found Anne Tyler's writing style to be flat - perhaps intentionally so, because her characters always seem to me to be worn down by life or experience. (Is his name Barbaby? If not, why do I write that in my review? Gosh).

cheers anna

-- anna (anna@lucidity.au.com), April 26, 2000.

I finished it the other day. (I'm going to finish Their Eyes Were Watching God today, and I'll hopefully write about it tomorrow.) Here are my final thoughts:

This will be one of the very few Anne Tyler books that I won't bother to reread; in fact, I'll probably give the book to the Salvation Army. That says a lot; I generally reread her books over and over. Her flat writing appeals to me -- I find that her muted prose works very well for the types of characters she creates and the way her characters experience their own emotions.

Here is how a basic Anne Tyler novel works: quirky characters do quirky things; tragedies occur, but everyone just sort of reacts by behaving in a slightly quirkier fashion. The reader mostly sees the humor, or (depending on what baggage the reader is bringing to the novel) is a little aghast at the characters' inappropriate reaction to heartbreak. Then, when the heartbreak is long past and the characters appear to have fully adjusted into their strange, quirky lives, there is a long delayed explosion of emotion that leaves the reader a bit shocked at the rawness of feeling.

That's how real families work. Not all real families, but many of them. I think Tyler does a beautiful job of conveying that turning inward, turning away from loved ones, developing eccentricities to mask pain that's too raw to face.

It just didn't work in this novel. I think that perhaps she's exhausted the theme. Her characters were already feeling a little tired in the last two novels; in A Patchwork Planet, I absolutely did not care. I think someone else mentioned that Barnaby was just a jerk. By the end of the novel, I truly did feel sorry for his parents, and even for Sophia. I felt sorry for everyone but him.

As Cathy mentioned, though, the descriptions of the elderly people -- their lives, their concerns, their little quirks -- were really very good. Maybe Tyler should get away from her family sagas for a while and write a novel set in a nursing home.

-- Beth (beth@xeney.com), April 29, 2000.

Erica: yes, A Slipping Down Life is the one with the girl who carves the singer's name into her forehead. I just really didn't like that one for some reason.

I had forgotten about Tin Can Tree. I think that one is the best example of characters having strange, muted, unexpected reactions to tragedy, although Accidental Tourist certainly explores the same theme.

Does anyone know anything about Anne Tyler's own life? I have a feeling that her autobiography would be fascinating.

-- Beth (beth@xeney.com), April 29, 2000.

Beth; I agree that Barnaby was a jerk; Sophia wasn't believable to me. Good women like that don't put up with that particular type of jerkiness; they don't *steal* from their relatives to protect their jerky boyfriends, for example.

And I agree that Tyler's flatness of tone works when the characters work. When it's good, it creates a feeling of involvement that purpler prose can't attain. When the characters don't click, it's just flat.

I might dip into it again - when I was reading it on my island vacation there were a couple of parts I wanted to discuss but can I remember them? No.

Thanks for the link on your weblog t'other day; my site reacted to the unaccustomed attention by going down for a good part of the day. Synchronicity reigns!

cheers anna

-- anna (anna@lucidity.au.com), April 30, 2000.

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