"...As the United States begins gearing up for war in the Middle East, twenty-year-old Tassie Keltjin, the Midwestern daughter of a gentleman hill farmer--his 'Keltjin potatoes' are justifiably famous--has come to a university town as a college student, her brain on fire with Chaucer, Sylvia Plath, Simone de Beauvoir. Between semesters, she takes a job as a part-time nanny. The family she works for seems both mysterious and glamorous to her, and although Tassie had once found children boring, she comes to care for, and to protect, their newly adopted little girl as her own. As the year unfolds and she is drawn deeper into each of these lives, her own life back home becomes ever more alien to her: her parents are frailer; her brother, aimless and lost in high school, contemplates joining the military. Tassie finds herself becoming more and more the stranger she felt herself to be, and as life and love unravel dramatically, even shockingly, she is forever changed..."--dust cover flap.
Tassie continues her studies and her job as a part-time nanny for the child, falls in love with a mysterious student, and engages with her troubled family and even more troubled roommate. At the same time the adoptive couple faces their own issues, especially a past incident that comes to light after the adoption is approved.
I found A Gate at the Stairs to be a frustrating, maddening, and intensely distasteful novel, as Moore attempted to do too much with this novel, and its characters, especially the adoptive couple, were either despicable, overly quirky, or inscrutable. Was this supposed to be a novel about post-9/11 America? One about racism, or multiculturalism, or the contrast between the rural towns and university cities in the Midwest? Maybe it's supposed to be a coming of age novel? A love story, perhaps? It was ultimately none of these things, as it handled these topics in a most superficial and demeaning manner. Avoid this book like the plague.
Her roommate leaves her and moves in with her boyfriend and so, when a Brazilian student shows an interest in her, Tassie falls hook, line and sinker and experiences her first sexual encounter. Her relationship with Reynaldo simmers along, as she drags MaryEmma with her to his apartment. Just when the loneliness seems to be diminishing, Reynaldo lays a bombshell at her feet that sends Tassie reeling.
At around the same time, Sarah provides a bombshell of her own and Tassie must rediscover herself as she renews her relationship with her former roommate and counts on her family to reel her in from the darkness.
Back home on the farm, Tassie and her father form a partnership to harvest this year’s crop after celebrating her brother’s high school graduation. Just when things seem to be turning around for her, the unthinkable happens and Tassie is, once again, looking into the abyss.
Moore’s style is to heavily lay on the sarcasm and humor and that makes her message all the more potent. I found myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion before she got into her really heavy narrative later in the book:
“Sarah pulled the phone from her bag and slowed the car slightly while she did. ‘Excuse me,’ she said to me. ‘Yeah?’ she said into the phone. All this despite the bumper sticker on her car that read, PERHAPS YOU WOULD DRIVE BETTER WITH THAT CELL PHONE SHOVED UP YOUR ASS. She also had one that said, IF GOD SPEAKS THROUGH BURNING BUSHES, LET’S BURN BUSH AND LISTEN TO WHAT GOD SAYS. It was interesting to me that such a woman, one with such rhetorical violence adhered to her car, had gotten past the adoption agency’s screening processes, whatever they were. She also had a third bumper sticker that said, BORN FINE THE FIRST TIME---though cell phones and Christianity were going to be the very things to bring her a child. Her fourth was no more promising: BEHIND EVERY SUCCESSFUL WOMAN IS HERSELF.
A good book, not a great book but enjoyable, nonetheless. Moore gives us a lot to think about in this post 9/11 age and her talent at crafting a sentence is unbelievable.
Lorrie Moore's novel, [A Gate at the Stairs] plumbs the depth's of regret and loss and the lofty physical flights, and concomitant feelings often accompanying romantic love.
The central characters in the book are a young, raised on a
A big plus here, is Moore's wonderful writing that is able to both capture and reveal the subtleties of the events in the lives of the characters, not only the primary ones, but the Greek chorus that supports and moves the story along as it does so capably through their finely tuned supporting roles.
Although, I have read other of Ms. Moore's writing, I found the form of the novel to give her the time, format, length and the opportunity to give the reader a more fulfilling and emotional tour de force. If you are looking for wit in the form of irony and are willing to feel/observe "deeper than most" levels of angst and grief, both repressed and deeply felt, you will find that experience through this story and it's characters. In other words, while this can be a Summer read, it goes places that one might better leave for cozier Fall and Winter reads snugged up under the afghan and maybe a small blaze in the stove or fireplace. And, perhaps a friend to chat with from time to time to balance the real world with the world of the novel.
Racism, the build up of the war in Afghanistan, adoption struggles and rewards, the exposing of life changing experiences from the past that are revealed, physical attraction and the feeling of being in love all contribute to the vivid moments of this novel.
There are a few distractions here and there with repetitive scenes including dialogue that becomes stale and descriptions of nature that, while poetic, might be distracting to some readers and does not move the story forward, but, does reveal the importance of Nature in the character's (or the author's) life. Weather is close to being a character in itself in Wisconsin.
I recommend this book to readers who are ready for "Moore", the writer, and "more" than only looking at the surface and activities of life.
Tassie is the daughter of a potato farmer. He is successful in his own way, but has a laid back attitude to pretty much everything.
Tassie goes to college, and in her search for a job as a babysitter, she is drawn into the lives of Edward and Sarah who are in process of adopting a baby. But of course, no one is really as they first appear, and so it is with this couple.
Her unusual job description has Tassie meeting birth mothers and giving some weak and inexperienced support to people she doesn't know. She has a personal life too, of course.
And as a young pretty woman, meets a young pretty man and falls enthusiastically into a relationship that eventually affects her position as a babysitter.
This is a sad story, but not a depressing one. It is really a story of life. Growing, learning, loving and guilt of course. There is always guilt. Do not make the mistake of labeling this one as fluff. It is much more than that. It is a good story, well told. The characters are compelling interesting, down to the ones who appear only for a moment. I recommend this for a good solid relaxing read.
Ultimately, I have quite mixed feelings about A Gate at the Stairs. In many ways I enjoyed the book very much (I don't feel in any way that I've wasted my time reading it), but in the end it doesn't quite deliver on the greatness its opening promises.
I wondered whether she would be able
Moore’s novel is written with the same attention to language as her short stories. This is not to say that the novel lacks pace or structure but rather that the pace is fueled by a strong sense of place and character and the structure has beauty etched through every strut and brace.
Here’s an example:
Our narrator is a twenty year old college student, a country girl with little experience of life beyond her farm, who is interviewing for a part-time job looking after children. She is meeting a prospective employer
“I’m Tassie Keltjin;” I said thrusting out my hand.
She took it and then studied my face.. “Yes,” she said slowly,
absently unnervingly scrutinizing each of my eyes.Her gaze made a slow
, observing circle around my nose and mouth. “I’m Sarah Brink,” she
said finally. I was not used to being looked at close up, not used to
the thing I was looking at looking back. Certainly my own mother had
never done such looking, and in general my face had the sort of
smooth, round stupidity that did not prompt the world’s study.I had
always felt as hidden as the hull in a berry, as secret and as fetal
as the curled fortune in a cookie, and such hiddenness was not without
its advantages, its egotisms, its grief-fed grandiosities.
Text like this I can taste. I sip at it the way I would a good wine. Recalling it makes me smile. This is how I would like to be able to write.
There is more to this book than exquisite language. Lorrie Moore let’s us share a year or so in a young woman’s life when she is learning about the world and her place in it and the pain and the joys that it contains.
She manages to move her story forward in a way that reflects life as we experience it: each day is a new an undefined until it slides onto the pearl-string of the past that we carry with us and understand only when we look back and not always then.
She keeps the immediacy of experience, the heat of emotion, the sense of being adrift in our own lives, of never quite knowing who we are or what we expect of ourselves until we are too late to go back and change the choices that have made us less than we wanted to be.
The book brims with ideas, small moments of joy embedded in an underlying anxiety, changes in perception that slowly acknowledge the reality of things we cannot control, escapes into music and solitude and friendships and one huge tidal wave of grief that changes everything or perhaps just reveals the true form of what was always there.
This is a book that you should give yourself up to. Experience it as directly as you can, a page at a time. As each page slides on the to the string that we have been taught to think of as a novel, your perception will change and mature.
This is one of those books that will stay with me. One that I will reach for and read small fragments of so I can refresh my memory
Moore does write beautifully. Even though I was listening to the book on audio (a format that doesn't allow me to luxuriate in language), I enjoyed her
The main character in this book is Tassie Keltjin, a student at a Midwestern University. Tassie takes a job as a nanny for Sarah Brink, who adopts an African American daughter. Tassie becomes a part of the Brink household, while also dealing with challenges in her own family and navigating the college experience. I was fascinated by Moore's attention to detail. I teach at a Midwestern University, and I was often surprised by the accuracy of small details in the story.
I also found Tassie an interesting main character. She is bright and observant, providing a window on the the divergent worlds in the book. However, sometimes she was a bit much. Moore seems determined to show us how bright Tassie is. The thoughts in her head seem a bit esoteric for most college students.
And finally, the plot. What to say? Well, probably nothing that won't give the whole thing away. So, suffice it to say that I am still trying to figure out the purpose of the fate of the Brink family. It felt somewhat unbelievable - especially when added to the other challenges that faced Tassie's family at the end of the book.
In all, I think that I'd like to read some of Moore's short stories. The intricate language and surprising plot twists might work better in that format. But I'm not sorry that I read A Gate at the Stairs if for no other reason than to enjoy the way that Moore can paint a picture with striking accuracy.
All members of the cast, even minor ones, are carefully drawn and original. All have fully formed characters, even the young ones.
Some are bad people, but even the bad people have redeeming qualities. I may be a bit biased, as Moore's
One of the most endearing things about the book, and one I hope it will be remembered for, is the ridiculously circular discussion of race and racial politics that goes on each Wednesday night. The same points are made again and again. I had not noticed this in my discussions of race issues, but now that Lorrie Moore has pointed it out, I see that every single attempt to bridge these gaps has had exactly the same result. Nothing ever changes. Perhaps we should start sparing ourselves the pain and find another way to spend the time contributing something more concrete?
Among the positives - she's a very astute observer of contemporary society, and there's nothing she doesn't know about how college kids think and feel. She has a fine ear for the particularities of language among subgroups,
Yet....as a whole it left me unsatisfied. The story is uneven, lumpy and jumpy. It starts out about adoption and then the focus shifts elsewhere. At times there are sentences, paragraphs or whole sections that seem to have arrived from another planet. I couldn't make out what they were about. And while the humour is great it gets out of control. It works well in the fist half of the book (about Tassies college life and becoming a babysitter), but it becomes increasingly inappropriate as the material shifts to much darker territory. Cracking jokes and word puns when the subject is serious just serves to distance the reader.
At first Tassie seems charmed by the Brink’s, though their idiosyncrasies often leave her baffled. Tassie develops a close bond with their adopted daughter, Mary-Emma. However, all is not what it seems with the Brink’s and eventually Tassie learns of the dark secret they have been hiding from that shatters the family apart.
The novel shines when it focuses on Tassie and her interactions with the Brink family. But too often the novel becomes bogged down in overly descriptive narration that goes on and on. Not only do these tangents not progress the story along, but often they merely serve as a jarring distraction from the story. This is unfortunate because without all the unnecessary narration, A Gate at the Stairs could have been a good read. Instead it feels more like a short story that was plumped up to fill the necessary page requirements to make it a novel.
I haven't read Lorrie Moore before, and I was struck by her mixture of very different tones throughout the novel, an interesting mosaic of snark and lyricism. The flippant college-girl tone is something that I (being a codger) usually despise, but it's mitigated by the narrator's clumsy innocence - and anyway, much of the flippant remarks are truly funny. And along with these funny, biting passages, there are beautifully lyrically passages evoking the natural world. Toward the end, as the book gets plottier, and sadder, you want to slow down and savor every word.
Tassie sees no situation that does not deserve a
The author seemed to me to have given up on any sort of plot quite a ways from the end of the book. I found the last 75 pages or so a slow slog.