A Gate at the Stairs – Lorrie Moore

Posted on January 29, 2010. Filed under: Books, Personal Reviews | Tags: , , , , |

This book was interesting in a variety of ways, but it also drove me crazy in a handful of other ways. Loorie Moore is a gifted short-story writer but I don’t know if I appreciated this novel by her as much as I did her short stories. The use of metaphors, similes, PUNS and overall language ‘tricks’ was excellently executed at first and then got a little fluffy toward the end. It just become redundant and to the point where you wanted to shout ‘enough is enough already’. The plot was pretty gripping but then the subplot really took ahold of your attention and when that subplot was discarded you were ready to toss the book, at least I was. (Maybe my B rating was too generous?)

The book’s heroine is a college freshman (though she turns 21 within that year…) in the Midwest, Tassie. Tassie seems ditzy but loveable all in one fell swoop. During certain passages you would love to clock her on the head to help her wake up, other times you appreciate her naivity. Looking back I almost feel this may be too cliche – why couldn’t a freshman/college student from a city be naïve like this? Tassie gets a job as a nanny/babysitter in her local college town for the breaks and as an easy way to make extra money during the semester. She interviews all over town and then gets selected for a position working with a woman who doesn’t have a child, yet. This woman, Sarah, plans to adopt. Tassie and Sarah bond over potatoes – Tassie’s dad is a potato farmer and Sarah happens to exclusively use his brand for her restaurant. It’s a nice bonding point and their foodie relationship grows throughout the novel.

Now the overarching plot of this novel is about Tassie – just her life, coming of age, learning some hard lessons, etc. It is inevitable that you will get caught up in Tassie’s relationship with Sarah and her family and the child – Emmie. Much of the book focuses on Tassie’s time with Emmie. From one angle you start to be disappointed in Sarah for not spending more time with Emmie, but then from another angle you realize that Moore didn’t give us that part of puzzle. She didn’t provide us with passages featuring only the Mother and daughter so maybe those tender moments did exist, or maybe Tassie was really more of the child’s mother. Working with this family definitely did help Tassie to grow up a little and see the world from new eyes, it also gave her a purpose, a meaning and responsibility. Once Tassie’s tenure working for the family ends I was truly anticipating the book to end, and then I realized there were still 100 pages or so to go. That was terrible.

Those last 100 pages seemed to drag on mostly because I felt secure and done with the story. Moore had moved on to write about Tassie’s family and her interactions with them but I didn’t care, I almost felt like Tassie’s family was Sarah’s family and we had gone through that pretty well.  I wanted to learn more and more about Tassie’s family but just couldn’t find myself as compelled to do so because I had gotten so attached to the story about Tassie’s time at Sarah’s house. Moore did wrap the book up well in the last few pages. There were a few moments where tears were brought to your eyes and there was more than one passage where you truly realized that Tassie grew up and could make a good decision. The book ends with one of Tassie’s best decisions you read about and as a reader I couldn’t have asked for better.

In the end this would be a good library rental, I don’t know if I would recommend purchasing it outright. The writing was beautiful but the puns may drive you insane. I really enjoyed the ‘meat and potatoes’ portion of the story with Sarah and may have shortened the end a bit. I enjoy the short stories by Lorrie Moore and may skip out on her next, future, novels… I also found it interesting to contemplate the cover art and title after having read the book. I felt I could draw more than one parallel to the artwork and title based on what I had read which did help me reflect back and see some more positive sides of reading this story.

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One Response to “A Gate at the Stairs – Lorrie Moore”

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interesting review. i haven’t read moore’s work before but i have been hearing a lot about her lately. i had a similar reaction to reading “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter”. There is a dramatic shift in it that just felt too manufactured for me but the first 75% of the book was very, very interesting.


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