May 11, 1998 12:00 PM

by Anne Tyler

Barnaby Gaitlin, the troubled protagonist of this moving novel, has just turned 30. He has an ex-wife who disdains him, a 9-year-old daughter he rarely sees and a menial job at a company called Rent-a-Back, doing chores for elderly people too infirm to do the work themselves. It isn’t exactly where he meant to end up. “So many things, it seemed, my body went ahead and did without me,” he says.

The son of a prominent Baltimore family, Barnaby continually replays the moment when, as a teenager, he was caught breaking and entering his neighbors’ homes. Nothing has gone quite right since. Still he cares deeply about the people he encounters and lives by a strict moral code.

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. There are no cataclysmic events here, just the search for love and meaning—in other words, real life. At the conclusion of this sad but ultimately hopeful book, Tyler holds out the promise that anyone is capable of change and even redemption. (Knopf, $24)

Bottom Line: Typically tender Tyler outing with her Baltimore eccentrics

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