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Gate at the Stairs (Moore) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews 
More expansive than either of her two previous novels…also a novel that brandishes some "big" material: racism, war, etc.—albeit in Moore's resolutely insouciant key…Great writers usually present us with mysteries, but the mystery Lorrie Moore presents consists of appearing genial, joshing and earnest at once—unmysterious, in other words, yet still great. She's a discomfiting, sometimes even rageful writer, lurking in the disguise of an endearing one. On finishing A Gate at the Stairs I turned to the reader nearest to me and made her swear to read it immediately.
Jonathan Lethem - New York Times Book Review


Ms. Moore has written her most powerful book yet, a book that gives us an indelible portrait of a young woman coming of age in the Midwest in the year after 9/11 and her initiation into the adult world of loss and grief…in this haunting novel Ms. Moore gives us stark, melancholy glimpses into her characters' hearts, mapping their fears and disappointments, their hidden yearnings and their more evanescent efforts to hold on to their dreams in the face of unfurling misfortune.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times


A Gate at the Stairs is Moore's first novel in 15 years, which means a whole generation of readers has grown up thinking of her only as one of the country's best short-story writers. Get ready to expand your sense of what she—and a novel—can do…The story's apparent modesty and ambling pace are deceptive, a cover for profound reflections on marriage and parenthood, racism and terrorism, and especially the baffling, hilarious, brutal initiation to adult life—what all of us learn to endure "in the dry terror of cluelessness"…what's so endearing is Moore's ability to tempt us with humor into the surreal boundaries of human experience, those strange decisions that make no sense out of context, the things we can't believe anyone would do.
Ron Charles - Washington Post


Moore (Anagrams) knits together the shadow of 9/11 and a young girl's bumpy coming-of-age in this luminous, heart-wrenchingly wry novel—the author's first in 15 years. Tassie Keltjin, 20, a smalltown girl weathering a clumsy college year in “the Athens of the Midwest,” is taken on as prospective nanny by brittle Sarah Brink, the proprietor of a pricey restaurant who is desperate to adopt a baby despite her dodgy past. Subsequent “adventures in prospective motherhood” involve a pregnant girl “with scarcely a tooth in her head” and a white birth mother abandoned by her African-American boyfriend—both encounters expose class and racial prejudice to an increasingly less naïve Tassie. In a parallel tale, Tassie lands a lover, enigmatic Reynaldo, who tries to keep certain parts of his life a secret from Tassie. Moore's graceful prose considers serious emotional and political issues with low-key clarity and poignancy, while generous flashes of wit—Tessie the sexual innocent using her roommate's vibrator to stir her chocolate milk—endow this stellar novel with great heart.
Publishers Weekly


Just months after 9/11, college student Tassie Keltjin, the brilliant daughter of a Midwestern farmer, becomes a part-time nanny for an older white couple who have adopted an African American baby. Enjoying her delightful young charge and reveling in her love affair with her Brazilian boyfriend, Tassie has a growing suspicion that her employers are somehow off. When their identities, as well as her boyfriend's, are blown, Tassie heads home, only to be hit with another, more devastating shock. Verdict: Moore uses the same kind of poetic precision of language found in her dazzling short story collections (e.g., Birds of America) to draw the reader into her long-awaited third novel (after Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?). The challenge for readers is to reconcile the beautiful sharpness of her language with two wildly improbable plot threads. —Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
Library Journal


In How Fiction Works, the tutorial by the New Yorker critic and Harvard professor, James Wood writes, "Literature makes us better noticers of life; we get to practice on life itself; which in turn makes us better readers of detail in literature; which in turn makes us better readers of life. And so on and on."Contemporary fiction has produced few noticers with a better eye and more engaging voice than Tassie Keltjin, the narrator of Lorrie Moore's deceptively powerful A Gate at the Stairs. For much of Moore's first novel in 15 years-her short stories have established her as something of a Stateside Alice Munro—Tassie's eye and ear are pretty much all there is to the book. And they are more than enough, for the 20-year-old college student makes for good company. Perceptive, with a self-deprecating sense of humor, she lulls the reader into not taking the matter-of-fact events of Tassie's life too seriously, until that life darkens through a series of events that even the best noticers might not have predicted. Because her ostensible roommate now lives with a boyfriend, we get to know Tassie very well—as a fully fleshed character rather than a type—and spend a lot of time inside her head. She splits her year between the university community more liberal than the rest of the Midwest and the rural Wisconsin town where her father is considered more of a "hobbyist" farmer than a real one. "What kind of farmer's daughter was I?" she asks. A virgin, but more from lack of opportunity than moral compunction (she compares her dating experiences to an invisible electric fence for dogs), and a bass player, both electric and stand-up. Singing along to her instrument, she describes "trying to find themidway place between melody and rhythm—was this searching not the very journey of life?" Explains Moore of her protagonist, "Once I had the character and voice of Tassie I felt I was on my way. She would be the observer of several worlds that were both familiar and not familiar to her.... Initially, I began in the third person and it was much more of a ghost story and there were a lot of sisters and, well, it was a false start. "It's hard to imagine this novel working in the third person, because we need to see Tassie's life through her eyes. As she learns some crucial lessons outside the classroom, the reader learns as well to be a better noticer. Tassie's instincts are sound, but her comic innocence takes a tragic turn, as she falls into her first serious romance, finds a job as nanny for an adopted, biracial baby and suffers some aftershocks from 9/11 a long way from Manhattan. The enrichment of such complications makes this one of the year's best novels, yet it is Tassie's eye that makes us better readers of life. And so on and on.
Kirkus Reviews




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