Tiny Pants's Reviews > A Gate at the Stairs

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
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Aug 01, 10

bookshelves: borrowed-library, fiction
Read in August, 2010

Yes, my force-fed diet of old-adult literature continues. Or should I be saying "adult-adult"? Here's the thing, if I say "adult literature" it makes it sound like I'm reading porn (or at minimum, erotica) and not just that I'm saying "Hey universe, congratulate me on reading something that was written if not for people my age, then at least not for young adults." Because really, who even reads young adult literature when they are young adults? I feel like people 14 to 18 are the one age group that doesn't even touch the stuff! Goodness knows I couldn't get enough of it when I was 8 to 12. And then starting up again when I was 26.

So 10 years' wait from Birds of America, what have we got? Well, surprise, it's depressing and takes place in Iowa Wisconsin. But bigger surprise, it's not completely disappointing. On the one hand, yes, Moore's insistent let-there-be-no-liberal-sacred-cows-ness is annoying, and the many sequences that are basically lists of words (names of plants, made-up names of clothing colors, names of fancy foods) are a bit too cute after the first one or two. In a similar vein, the "Did I mention enough times that this takes place just after 9/11?" gets incredibly old incredibly fast, and its insertion into one of the subplots causes the entire book to damn near jump the shark (I'll leave it to you to figure out which subplot I mean, but trust it's pretty dang obvious which one). I mean really, I was at college and working in New York right after 9/11, and people weren't having conversations as leaden yet fraught as these Wisconsinites are managing to have over and over again.

On the other hand, in spite of its frustrations, Moore does pull this one off. It took me forever to read the beginning of this book, because it's not just like you see a gun in the first act. It's like you're at the gun show, and everywhere you turn there's a gun that's bigger and more menacing than the last. I seriously contemplated not finishing it, which is something I basically never do -- the only time I've had to pull that escape hatch was The Devil Wears Prada, and obviously Lorrie Moore is many rungs above that contemptuous bottom-feeder. At some point though, it turned a corner, and even though there were still more guns, and they did go off, I made it through. And in the end, I think the thing that brought this up to two stars for me, was that unlike several of the books I've read (and complained about) recently, this ending was thorough, unrushed, completely earned, and surprisingly satisfying. Even though I didn't care much for the content, Moore is a very, very good writer.
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