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A Gate at the Stairs Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 1, 2009

3.0 out of 5 stars 298 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best of the Month, September 2009: Lorrie Moore's people are jokesters, wisenheimers. They hold the world, and the language used to describe it, a little off to the side, where they can turn it around and, if not figure it out, at least find something funny to say about it, which, often, is not quite enough. It's been 11 years since her last book, 15 since her last novel, but A Gate at the Stairs is vintage Moore: brittly witty and lurkingly dark, the portrait of a Midwest college town through the eyes of Tassie Keltjin, a student from the country whose mind has been lit up by learning but who spends nearly all this story out of class, as a nanny for a couple who have adopted a toddler. Tassie's a bit of a toddler herself (and an ideal narrator because of it), testing the world as if through her teeth, and she finds the world stranger and more deeply wounded the more she learns of it. Her investigations make A Gate at the Stairs sad, hilarious, and thrillingly necessary. --Tom Nissley

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Moore (Anagrams) knits together the shadow of 9/11 and a young girl's bumpy coming-of-age in this luminous, heart-wrenchingly wry novel—the author's first in 15 years. Tassie Keltjin, 20, a smalltown girl weathering a clumsy college year in the Athens of the Midwest, is taken on as prospective nanny by brittle Sarah Brink, the proprietor of a pricey restaurant who is desperate to adopt a baby despite her dodgy past. Subsequent adventures in prospective motherhood involve a pregnant girl with scarcely a tooth in her head and a white birth mother abandoned by her African-American boyfriend—both encounters expose class and racial prejudice to an increasingly less naïve Tassie. In a parallel tale, Tassie lands a lover, enigmatic Reynaldo, who tries to keep certain parts of his life a secret from Tassie. Moore's graceful prose considers serious emotional and political issues with low-key clarity and poignancy, while generous flashes of wit—Tessie the sexual innocent using her roommate's vibrator to stir her chocolate milk—endow this stellar novel with great heart. (Sept.)
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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (September 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375409289
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375409288
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (298 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #910,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When Tassie's story starts, it is almost too convincing as a portrait of an aimless college girl. I say this because the aimless college years are probably only interesting in retrospect, and to the person who lived through them. So Tassie's stupid classes, unfocused yearnings and blanket rejection of all that is "old" are convincing, but not all that entertaining. This is the case throughout the entire book.

Where her life intersects with the household in which she will work as a nanny, the story moves and engages the reader. The process of private adoption, the sadness of birth mothers, the attachment the "help" develops for the child who is not hers, and the oblique observation of the marriage of your employer; so perfectly done. As perfectly done is the development of Tassie's romance with her mysterious Brazilian, the quiet way she discovers the joys of lovemaking, how she seeks out the passions of her own life on her employer's time, unaware that this is absolutely not right.

But things need to happen in a story, and as hilarious as Tassie and Sarah's conversations are, as oily and disgusting as Edward and his "hair cape" are, as painful as Tassie's plummet into unrequited love with Reynaldo is, when things happen here, they happen. Boom, boom, boom, Tassie is confronted with three great griefs all in a row. Where do you turn when everything in life disappoints you? Home, I guess.

There are things "wrong" with this book. Tassie's voice, though accurate, is at times allowed to veer into hectic, antic, as she talks too much and Moore lets her do that. She tosses off cynical natterings to the point where as i reader I almost didn't like her, because none of her cynicism was based on experience. Also, Moore needs to pick a simile.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Like other reviewers I come to this novel as an admirer of Lorrie Moore's piquant short stories, which render with deftness and sympathy the oddness, pleasure, and pain of being human. All of Moore's strengths as a writer -- her ability to find just the right off-the-wall metaphor, her comic sidewise advance on the most painful experiences, her sardonic wit -- are on display here. But the space afforded her by the longer form appears to have reduced her vigilance in maintaining the economy and precision of her shorter fiction. Too much of a good thing is sometimes just too much.

There were long (they seemed long anyway) stretches in the novel where I wanted to say "OK, I get the point! These people are callow and self-absorbed." Or where I wished she had stopped after the first, or even the second, mind-bending metaphor for the same observation.

And then there is the plot, which hangs together only tenuously. Tassie at school and Tassie at home seem largely unconnected, and there are elements of suspense introduced that trail off into nothingness. Perhaps this could be explained as imitative of life, but it often seems to be gratuitous.

Tassie's family is eccentric, a pleasure we have come to expect from Moore, but too often these people come off as self-parodies. The early character development of Tassie's brother Robert is a caricature that doesn't really pave the way for the depth of grief that engulfs the end of the novel.

Tassie is an interesting character and an entertaining narrator, but her insouciance and diffidence distance us from her throughout, and we never really fully penetrate her self-protective shield. In the end I agree with the reviewer who said that Moore would be better served by leaving the undergraduate world behind and finding adult company.
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Format: Hardcover
You wait years for a Lorrie Moore book, then two appear out of the blue. Moore published her last story collection, Birds of America, ten years ago; her last novel, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, fifteen years ago. You know what to expect: small-town America seen with a quirky, poetic eye; a damaged female protagonist; wisecracks, and the howling gusts of sanity and humour. The inevitable blurb from Nick Hornby on the paperback will surely seal the deal. What, then, could possibly go wrong?

A lot, unfortunately. Virtually everyone agrees that Moore is a major talent. It's just that her talent has a default setting - the short story - and when she leaves it, the engine of her narrative stalls. It's a problem particular to short story writers of genius: Cheever and O. Henry both had it. The ties to the 'post 9/11 psyche' seem nebulous and tacked-on; the plot evaporates thirty-nine pages into the novel, and Moore has spun better silk out of similar material in her justly acclaimed story, 'You're Ugly, Too'. Moore deserves your attention, but not for this. Spend your hard-earned cash on her Collected Stories instead.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A version of the first chapter of Lorrie Moore's "A Gate at the Stairs" recently appeared as a short story in "The New Yorker," and on the strength of that, I was excited to read the whole novel. The protagonist, Tassie Keltjin, a young woman from a small town who is a freshman at a Midwestern university, is very appealing in her awkwardness, her wry comments on life, and her growing self-awareness. Moore has a sharp eye for the pretensions of a college town, such as the fraught "support group" conversations that ensue when Tassie's employer, Sarah Brink (a perfect surname you'll discover), adopts a bi-racial child. The parts of the novel that center on this adoption process and on Tassie's relationship with the child are the strongest in the novel. I also loved the account of Tassie's rather aimless, unsupported academic life (and the goofy courses she takes).

There are actually two narratives in "A Gate at the Stairs:" the first centers on Tassie's college life and the second on her home life. These two worlds do not intersect and the home narrative is much less successful. For reasons I couldn't fathom, Moore gives Tassie an unhappy Jewish mother who behaves oddly (she orders things online and never opens the boxes, for instance), although the reasons for her unhappiness are never divulged. I sensed that Moore was less comfortable with this material; the latke (potato pancake) frying scene was completely weird and wrong, for instance. (You don't grate potatoes the day before you make latkes, unless you enjoy fermentation and strange colors, and you certainly don't slap them together like a hamburger patty, as Tassie does.
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