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A Gate at the Stairs Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 1, 2009
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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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The story begins with Tassie looking for a job as a nanny. She needs the money to stay in school. She meets Sarah Brink and husband Edward Thornwood, a scientist. The couple is from the northeast, different, more sophisticated than midwestern farm people. Sarah owns an up scale restaurant catering to well heeled clients who like exotic food. The restaurant has a fancy French name. Sarah is a good business woman who knows her restaurant, does well. Far away from small town Wisconsin. Sarah wants to adopt a baby. She will have Tassie go with her to interview moms and others involved in adoptions.
Tassie goes home for the holidays such as her family observes. She loves her family, no problems. Then back to Troy and university life.
Along comes a baby needing a forever family. This baby is racially mixed, black father, white mother and will be named Mary Emma. Sarah, Edward and Tassie meet the mother, go to the child's foster home. Emmie is two or almost. Sarah is delighted, Tassie falls in love with her charge, Edward is only in love with himself. It is fun meeting these characters. This book is both laugh out loud and heart breaking.
Readers meet Murph, Tassie's roommate who moves in with her love leaving the apartment to Tassie. Tassie meets her boyfriend in one of her classes. She falls in love or thinks she does, a good looking young man who is not who he says he is. She babysits a bunch of kids,. Every Wednesday evening, Sarah opens her home to parents of children, mixed race ,black, adopted from other races for discussion. The parents talk about their experiences, problems, worrying about kids being accepted. Voices drift up the stairs while Tassie is playing with and entertaining all these kids.
Murph and Tassie become good friends, Murph returns to the apartment, both girls are without men at the time. In the year of the book, Tassie loses characters she cares much about, characters she barely knows, characters who just drift through her life. This not too long novel contains several short stories dealing with other characters. Tassie goes back to the farm to recuperate from life. She goes to the town swimming pool, sees a girl she had gone to high school with. She waves. The girl doesn't remember her. How quickly we are forgotten. There are beautiful descriptions of the countryside during the summer when Tassie goes home.
This 2009 novel about ruptured family bonds, set in Wisconsin not long after the terrorist attacks of September 11, describes retrospectively and in vivid detail appalling developments lived within Midwestern American mores, landscapes, seasons and changes of weather. The narrative centers on a 20-yr-old college student, Tassie Keltjin, who is hired to babysit a biracial toddler in foster care, preparatory to adoption, by a couple whose marriage is failing. The weird story, characterizations, and uses of language exude authenticity, and the book's final 100 pages are compelling to read. Moore's singular story combines the zeitgeist issues of gender roles, religion, class, race, war, food, the limitations of politically-correct academia and its fraudulence, and the redefinition of what makes a family.