Bonnie Brody's Reviews > A Gate at the Stairs

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
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Mar 03, 12

Read in August, 2009

I want to preface this review by stating that I am a fan of Loorie Moore's. I have read Anagrams and Birds of America: Stories. I loved both of these books. Her current novel, A Gate at the Stairs, is good but I did not like it as much as the previous two books I have read by her.

This novel seems to be about two different subjects and could have been written as one short novel and a novella. The first part of the book is about a young woman named Tassie who is beginning college in a Wisconsin town named Troy. Troy is very similar to Madison, Wisconsin. Tassie is looking for a part time job and finds one as a nannie for a couple in the process of adopting a child. At first, Tassie sees the family, and especially Sarah, as perfect. Gradually she realizes that this family is far from perfect. Sarah, Tassie's employer, appears personally chaotic and desperate, involving Tassie in the adoption process much more than one would expect. Tassie is more involved in the adoption than is Sarah's husband. Sarah ends up adopting a lovely two-year old of mixed racial background and the book opens wide issues of racism, child rearing, feminism, marriage and secrets. Tassie realizes that "Gift wrap was all. Perfect the wrap, and you could put whatever you wanted in the box". (p. 105)

The second theme of the book is about Tassie's relationship with her family. Tassie's father works a small gourmet farm in Wisconsin known for its potatoes. Tassie is 20 years old and just coming into her own as an adult woman. Her mother is Jewish and her father agnostic. Tassie feels like she is 'quasi' everything. She is yet to know herself and her world. She has a brother, Gunny, who is graduating from high school and considering signing up for the military right after 9/11. Tassie, like many young people, has conflicted relationships with her family and this is examined in part of the book.

I felt like the novel would have been better had it ended when Tassie's relationship with Sarah ended. I found the rest of the book difficult to connect with. I think that it would have been better as a separate novella that dealt with Tassie and her family. I was all caught up in the book's examination of Tassie as nanny and the family she was working for and then the book shifts to something entirely different with no real segue. It left me feeling like I wanted more of a connection.

The novel's first 250 pages are riveting. I could not wait to pick the book up. I loved the way Tassie's relationship with her two year-old charge, Mary, was described. I loved the way that Tassie loved Mary and, in that love, began to understand life and its meaning. I also enjoyed watching Tassie have her first real relationship. Sadly though, she realizes that love is never enough. In a sense, that might be the real message that Lorrie Moore is imparting in this novel.
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