Ravi Jain's Reviews > A Gate at the Stairs

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
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Oct 07, 13

Read on November 05, 2010

I came to this novel with great expectations, considering the praise heaped on it (dozens of top 10 and bestseller lists). And indeed from the first few sentences you had the feeling you were in the hands of a sure, masterful storyteller. But over the course of the novel it unraveled and became an inchoate mix of sophomoric polemic, coming-of-age story, carictaurish depictions of terrorists, and clever wordplay.

The story's vehicle is Tassie, a 20-yr old college freshman who becomes a nanny for a wealthy, over-educated, white liberal couple who adopt an infant girl who is part African-American. It is best when it takes us on the journey of an open adoption, that too in a situation where the complication is not only the class and race issues of this particular adoption but the conflicts and emotional fractures of the adopting parents. The adoption story is in fact where the novel's heart lies, and where it is not only sweet and funny but heartbreakingly sad; the latter so much so that I had to put the put book aside at times. Along the way we get lots of biting comments on the class and social differences between the liberal college town where Tassie goes to school and her country roots.

However all this gets buried in extraneous sub-plots: Tassie's infatuation with a classmate (wont give the spoiler here), her brother Robert's aimless stumbling into volunteering for duty in Afghanistan, and her ambivalent relationships with her parents. The worst sections are pages and pages where the politics of interracial adoption are debated by a group of parents whom Tassie listens to while babysitting -- a clumsy and transparent device for directly inserting polemic and social commentary into the novel without bothering to give them the clothing of character and plot. The continual wordplay by Tasie, her room-mate Murph, her brother and her father are wearing. Finally, like so many contemporary novels, the male characters are the worst and receive no compassion - the confused brother, the vain and selfish husband, the hopeless boyfriend, and so on.

All in all, disappointing and not worth the effort.
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Abby (new)

Abby Howell Agreed. I think her book of short stories was much better. This was just dumb.

Rebecca Treiman I totally agree

Barbara Nice review, Ravi. I was somewhat more generous with my 2 star rating, but there were few redeeming factors in this book. It certainly was "all over the place"!

message 4: by Ravi (new) - rated it 1 star

Ravi Jain Rebecca wrote: "I totally agree"

I don't recall whether I replied or not.. but thanks for the comment!

Barbara Doesn't it make you wonder how such "unsatisfying" novels are rewarded with glowing praise? It seems to occur with great frequency!

message 6: by Ravi (new) - rated it 1 star

Ravi Jain Yes, indeed! I think authors develop into brand names and reviewers respond to that ...

message 7: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Brady Thank you Ravi I agree. I thought this book irritated me because of the American expressions such as "gotten".
However I persisted in the name of tolerance finding awkward expressions along the way which could have been left out. Perhaps I am too fussy.

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