This novel wasn't really about anything. A first-person narrative of a 20 year-old girl going back and forth between her home town and her college town, A Gate at the Stairs touches on religion, politics, race, education, gender, sexuality, and morality.
Sounds heavy, yet it wasn't. Other than the predictable jab at Republicans, most of the political comments were subtle, and seemingly innocent, as they were observed through the eyes of a young, impressionable, college student in a "lock-step lefty town." There were times while reading this book that I laughed out loud at some of the witticisms of Tassie Keltjin, our narrator. Unfortunately, I had to pay very close attention to find those little gems. At one point, I found that I had accidentally turned two pages instead of one, but I didn't really notice at first. I did go back, but it really wasn't necessary to understanding anything about the characters, the plot or the underlying themes. My oversight of those two pages did not effect the rhythm of the book, since there was very little plot and a lot of random thoughts and lengthy tangents.
One observation that I can not keep to myself, Lorrie Moore is a master of the simile. I started writing down my favorites, but there were just too many. Turning to just a few random pages of the novel, I can easily find:
"It looked beautiful -- the gold of the mown rye striping the green corn and both undulating through like a performing pair of lovebird dolphins."
"Low on the horizon there were different clouds, like old plowed snow at the end of a street."
"One looked out through the window, when one could, through pointed icicles that were like the incisors of a shark; it was as if one were living the cold, dead mouth of a very mean snowman."
To read an excerpt that was printed in the NY Times in August 2009, go here.
To read the official first chapter from Knopf, go here.
About This Book: A Gate At The Stairs by Lorrie Moore Hardcover: 336 pages Publisher: Knopf (September 1, 2009) Language: English ISBN-10: 0375409289 ISBN-13: 978-0375409288
Synopsis: Now, in her dazzling new novel—her first in more than a decade—Moore turns her eye on the anxiety and disconnection of post-9/11 America, on the insidiousness of racism, the blind-sidedness of war, and the recklessness thrust on others in the name of love.
As the United States begins gearing up for war in the Middle East, twenty-year-old Tassie Keltjin, the Midwestern daughter of a gentleman hill farmer—his “Keltjin potatoes” are justifiably famous—has come to a university town as a college student, her brain on fire with Chaucer, Sylvia Plath, Simone de Beauvoir.
Between semesters, she takes a job as a part-time nanny.
The family she works for seems both mysterious and glamorous to her, and although Tassie had once found children boring, she comes to care for, and to protect, their newly adopted little girl as her own.
As the year unfolds and she is drawn deeper into each of these lives, her own life back home becomes ever more alien to her: her parents are frailer; her brother, aimless and lost in high school, contemplates joining the military. Tassie finds herself becoming more and more the stranger she felt herself to be, and as life and love unravel dramatically, even shockingly, she is forever changed.
This long-awaited new novel by one of the most heralded writers of the past two decades is lyrical, funny, moving, and devastating; Lorrie Moore’s most ambitious book to date—textured, beguiling, and wise.