J.I.'s Reviews > A Gate at the Stairs

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
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's review
Dec 17, 2012

bookshelves: read-2010
Read in January, 2010

The plot of this novel is all over the place. It is about Tassie a twenty year old college sophomore as she decides to take a job babysitting to earn some money. She isn't really a prototypical college student. She is one of the weird ones. She doesn't go to frat parties or muse over indie music with a PBR, she doesn't get involved in student organizations or anything really. She plays the bass, but doesn't join a band. She is a loner and a muser and it is through her eyes that you see the world.

It is just after 9/11 but Tassie isn't that affected by those terrible events. Like many outsiders they are simply terrible events, and they haven't particularly shaken her to her core like so many of your typical (especially over-emotional) student. And so she meets Sarah Brink, her new employer looking to adopt a baby (and possessor of a particularly morbid, awkward sense of humor), and things get strange. There are questions of terrorism blended into the mix, questions of the military, questions of race and especially questions of the white middle class.

Through all of this Tassie stumbles through, trying to find her connection to the world. This is how the book shines. It is about the strange people who strange things happen to. If you sit down and write out all of the plot points it seems to much and too jarring. Through the narrative, however, it makes its own sense. Things stop and start at inconvenient times because that's what happens. People act stupid because that is what people do. Through it all, Tassie puzzles her way through. She has a distinct personality at the beginning, but that is the personality of someone trying to discover a personality. Of a supporting cast member trying to be worthy of being the lead of their own life. There isn't really anything shocking in the end, but the character begins to get there. Despite being buffeted about by the events of her life in the span of this novel, she begins to take root and stand firm.

Moore in her long forms is less hilarious and less bitter, less tragic and less sardonic, but this book moves extremely well--especially in its lurching--and is fantastically written. Despite being older, Moore nails the subtype of twenty year old she's writing. There are pop culture references thrown around a lot, but they stand up for the character and make logical sense. It doesn't feel (ala Tom Wolfe's abomination I Am Charlotte Simmons) like an older author making believe, poorly, that she is younger. It just feels like the character.

Despite all of this, I feel it still feels short of the achievements of her collections of stories, which are end to end stunning, but the book remains wonderful and that's enough for me.
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