Gate at the Stairs (Review)

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A Gate at the Stairs
Lorrie Moore, 2009
336 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
January 2010

Lorrie Moore is "brainy," "Lily-Tomlin-funny", and possibly "the most irresistible contemporary American writer" (that from Jonathan Lethem, no slouch himself).

A Gate at the Stairs, Moore's first novel in 11 years, has been widely praised for its stunning portrait of a young woman maneuvering her way through the adult world. Her heroine, Tassie Keltjin, a student at a mid-sized liberal arts college in Wisconsin, defies the take-the-girl-out-of-the-country-but-not-the-country...cliche.

Raised on a potato farm, Tassie takes to her new academic life with zest: she thrills to the words of Geoffrey Chaucer and Sylvia Plath alike. She relishes her first taste of Chinese food, and engages in heady academic courses like pilates, wine tasting, and war-movie soundtracks.

At the end of the fall semester, Tassie signs on with an attractive couple as nanny for their adopted baby. Sophisticated and smart, the couple disarms Tassie, who also develops a deep attachement to the child, Mary Emma. But...well, things aren't what they seem. And Tassie, already feeling alone and adrift, finds that love isn't strong enough to hold tragedy at bay.

A lover of word play and purveyor of puns, Tassie knows that language can be unreliable in how it presents itself; she comes to learn that the world and its people are equally unreliable, if not more so, in the way they present themselves. It's a sad and painful lesson.

A Gate deserves all the praise it's received. Tassie's voice engages us from the start, a funny, precocious innocence that draws us into her world. And guaranteed—book clubs will have riveting discussions when it comes to Sarah and Edward Brink.

See our Reading Guide for A Gate at the Stairs.

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