Photo by Bob Jagendorf
Well, when it comes to the state of Maryland, Melanie Jones and I completely agree — there is no better representative for this state than Anne Tyler (who was actually born in Minneapolis, but has chosen Baltimore as her muse). I have read each and every one of her 17 novels, and always look forward to her next one. Melanie chose A Patchwork Planet and I would add Breathing Lessons, which won the Pulitzer, and my personal favorite, Digging to America. Here is Melanie’s reasoning for A Patchwork Planet:
Barnaby Gaitlin is the focus of Anne Tyler’s fourteenth and perhaps most endearing book, A Patchwork Planet. As a teenager, Barnaby’s need to connect with others led to his arrest for breaking and entering to snoop into neighbors’ photo albums. Now thirty and divorced, his work at Rent-A-Back, an assistance service for the elderly, provides him with the appreciation and understanding which his well-to-do family is unable to do. His work is the one bright point in his life until Sophia, his new girlfriend and possible “guardian angel,” enters the scene and revitalizes his burnout existence.
Like all Tyler’s novels, Planet is set in Maryland. The quiet neighborhood outside of Baltimore serves to nestle Barnaby with its “big, tall spruce trees” and “damp, chilly feel” that leaves a permanent mist on car windows. More so than the land itself, however, the northeast crispness of Baltimore attitude, which leaves characters like Barnaby’s clients more satisfyingly prickly than cuddly, serves as the perfect setting for the struggles of a promising loser.
“What I wanted to know was,” Barnaby asks, “couldn’t people change? Did they have to settle for just being who they were forever, from cradle to grave?” In the end, the grace he has been searching for reveals itself like the quilt of the earth which a patient has made: “makeshift and haphazard, clumsily crowded together, overlapping,” but “pretty in an offbeat unexpected way.”
Photo by David Davies
I love Anne Tyler’s ability to bring quirky, complex, likeable, human characters to life. She was first known for The Accidental Tourist (a Pulitzer finalist), which was made into a movie starring Geena Davis and William Hurt, but Tyler sites Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (another Pulitzer finalist) as her personal favorite.
I have recommended Tyler to people with mixed results — one friend felt as if nothing really happened in the one she tried — and I will agree that Tyler’s strength is character development, more than plot. But if the intricacies and inconsistencies of human nature interest you, I would recommend Tyler! Here’s to you, Maryland! (State capitol — Annapolis).
Curious about the other states we’ve covered?
First, from Melanie Jones:
And I went out on my own for…
Louisiana: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells (Jones’ pick) and The Awakening by Kate Chopin (my pick)
Colorado: Plainsong by Kent Haruf
Wondering where your state is? Coming soon… 50 States, 50 Books List