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A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

A Gate at the Stairs (original 2009; edition 2009)

by Lorrie Moore

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1,9311433,538 (3.38)185
Title:A Gate at the Stairs
Authors:Lorrie Moore
Info:Knopf (2009), Edition: First Edition, First Printing, Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Read in 2013, Read but unowned
Tags:READ 2013

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A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore (2009)


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English (137)  Spanish (4)  French (2)  All languages (143)
Showing 1-5 of 137 (next | show all)
Tassie Keltjin is a college student who has led a fairly sheltered life. She grew up on a farm so never really held a real job, but now she needs to earn a little money and accepts a position as a nanny. Strangely, she is hired before the child, to be adopted, has arrived. Against her better judgement she becomes involved in the adoption process and quickly learns about the seedier side of life. Giving her heart to this little girl and then to her mysterious boyfriend Reynaldo she learns that it is possible to get that heart broken. When one is sad and feeling alone the only place to turn is home. Sadly, instead of being a haven in which to heal, home offers only more heartbreak for Tassie.

The first half of this book grabbed my interest immediately. The story captivates as Ms. Moore weaves in issues of adoption, teenage pregnancy, class and race issues. Towards the middle of this book Tassie’s life takes a dramatic turn (I won’t specify because I do not want to include a “spoiler alert”). Tassie’s story continues on in a totally different direction. I was surprised and then very quickly disappointed. I wanted to know what happened after the event and it was never alluded to again. I finished the book with the hope that there would be another small mention to satisfy my curiosity, but alas, it never came. I was left hanging in a most unpleasant manner and itt spoiled the whole book for me.
( )
  ChristineEllei | Jul 14, 2015 |
Loved parts of it. Others not so much. Usually love Lorrie Moore's writing. College student takes part time job with couple adopting a child, assisting with the child's care. Comes to love the child and begin to relate to the mother. Odd side stories (like Tassie's "romance"). A secret from the couple's past changes everything. Non-ending type ending. Always love stories set in Wisconsin--this one is set in Madison, although in the book it is "Troy." ( )
  cherybear | Jan 19, 2015 |
Given that I read it many years ago, I now only vaguely remember Birds of America as an impressive collection of short stories. Yet I remember it as very impressive. And so, Lorrie Moore’s name stuck in my mental card catalog as one to return to.

I then found this hard copy of A Gate at the Stairs on a stoop here in Brooklyn these several years later. Stone stairs; no gate: in other words, an invitation to pick it up – which I did – and keep it for a rainy or work-free day.

As I approach the end of the novel, I’m still stuck with the same misgivings I had early on – namely, that Ms. Moore is telling this story through the wrong voice. Had she chosen a third-person omniscient voice, all would’ve been well. But she didn’t. She chose to tell this story through a first person singular voice – and that of a twenty-year-old college student. This was the author’s decision.

There were times when I thought she hit the right note – but far more often, when she didn’t. No matter how bright, how precocious, how enlightened a twenty-year-old might be, she doesn’t talk or think like this one. No, the fault lies with Lorrie Moore – and an author of Ms. Moore’s reputation and experience should know better.

As just one of hundreds of examples, I give you this:

“I nodded, trying to imagine the very particular sadness of a vanished childhood yogurt now found only in France. It was a very special sort of sadness, individual, and in its inability to induce sympathy, in its tuneless spark, it bypassed poetry and entered science. I tried not to think of my one excursion to Whole Foods, over a year ago, where I found myself paralyzed by all the special food for special people, whose special murmurings seemed to be saying, ‘Out of my way! I want a Tofurkey!’ (p. 136).

The sentiment here may well be absolutely correct. But a twenty-year-old college student just doesn’t see it this way. A twenty-year-old college student might dare to enter a Whole Foods – and if she did, she might then dare to think this is the way I’d eat if only I could afford it. Whole Foods is not Tiffany’s or the local BMW/Mercedes dealer, both of which we can do without. Whole Foods is just a grocery store – but the kind of grocery store all of us would like to have access to if our sorely dithered purse strings were not already stretched to the breaking point.

I consequently have to differ with Ms. Moore’s sentiment (through her mouthpiece character) that “I had also learned that in literature – perhaps as in life – one had to speak not of what the author intended(,) but of what a story intended for itself” (pp. 263 – 264). I’m sorry, but I feel an author should be in complete control of what she writes. How others choose to interpret it is not her concern. But she – and she alone – is responsible for every white space she chooses to obliterate with a letter, a mark of punctuation, a word, a sentence, an idea. A given story is merely standing by and waiting to be told.

And not to be picayune, but there is that little business on p. 281 of “…where by this time no one but I was seated without a companion…”. Ms. Moore no doubt knows that ‘but’ can serve as both a conjunction and a preposition – and that, if as a preposition, it must take the objective case. And so, I have to wonder (to paraphrase an old Peter, Paul & Mary song): ‘where have all the copy editors at Alfred A. Knopf gone?’

Brooklyn, NY

( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
A bad book from a good writer. ( )
  AThurman | Dec 7, 2014 |
I really wanted to like Lorrie Moore's "A Gate at the Stairs" but honestly, the book really grated on me more and more as it went on.

There are a lot of interesting ideas in the book, which centers on Tassie Keltjin, the daughter of a potato farmer who becomes a babysitter for a child adopted through unethical means. There are a bunch of storylines that never really converge, including raising the challenges of raising a child of a different race, terrorism and the War in Afghanistan.

Moore has a great sense of humor and makes some clever observations. I liked her use of language and her overall writing style.

But the book's problems outweighed its strengths. Tassie, our narrator, seems to be a bit daft and so self-involved she is unable to grasp anything going on around her. The book's adoption agency is some of hybrid between agencies that offer domestic infant and foster care adoption, creating an odd setup that nagged at me throughout the book. And the Wednesday night conversations -- to explore ideas about race -- were just lists of quotes without much depth that grew tiresome, but kept reappearing.

Overall, I thought the book was filled with terrific ideas, but it never quite realized its potential. ( )
  amerynth | Nov 7, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 137 (next | show all)
In addition, the book suffers from more particular problems. Its narrative lines never fully converge, there are some anachronisms of phrasing, and Sarah is so rarely absorbed by her restaurant’s day-to-day routines that her career seems little more than the author’s attempt to make her into an arbiter of style, someone whose sophistication contrasts with Tassie’s lack of it. Moore does, admittedly, try to finesse the difficulties this narrative voice presents by asking us to imagine that the story is told by an older Tassie. “Years later”: Every fifty pages or so we get a little phrase like that. But how many years? Even today she’d be under thirty, and there’s no gap here in either diction or sensibility between the student and her presumably older self. After such a long absence, it’s good to have something new from Moore, to taste the bite and pith of her sentences once again. There’s a wonderful line—mordant and richly so—on every other page, but A Gate at the Stairs never adds up to more than the sum of those moments.
As the drifts of perfectly turned moments mount up about the reader's shoulders, along with a corresponding paucity of dramatic incident, forward motion becomes increasingly difficult. Moore is a great writer, but you wish that every once in a while, she would settle for just being good.
added by Shortride | editTime, Lev Grossman (Oct 5, 2009)
Moore has performed a brilliant feat. She has retained the shining, fluid, and, yes, funny surface of her earlier work. But she has also given us a narrator who attempts to peer through the shimmering veil of language to the truth behind.
added by Shortride | editSlate, Claire Dederer (Sep 7, 2009)
What Moore crafts is so like life that to condemn Tassie for the ways in which she fails and falls short as a person would demand that we examine such behavior in ourselves. Thank goodness this book is funny, otherwise, it would be nearly unbearable.
added by Shortride | editAssociated Press, Patrick Condon (Sep 3, 2009)
Aggressively clever, meticulously crafted -- and exhausting.
added by jjlong | editSalon, Stephanie Zacharek (Sep 1, 2009)
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The cold came late that fall and the songbirds were caught off guard.
If he had loved me, or even if he’d just have said so, I would have died of happiness. But it didn’t happen. So I didn’t die of happiness. Words for a tombstone: SHE DIDN’T DIE OF HAPPINESS.
This was love, I supposed, and eventually I would come to know it. Someday it would choose me and I would come to understand its spell, for long stretches and short, two times, maybe three, and then quite probably it would choose me never again.
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
Twenty-year-old Tassie Keltjin yearns to escape her provincial home. She moves to the college town of Troy to start university and takes a job as a part-time nanny to a glamorous couple. Tassie is drawn into their life and that of their newly adopted toddler. As the household reveals its complications, Tassie is forced out of her naivety, and the past and the future burst forth in dramatic and shocking ways.
Haiku summary
Yuppies need nanny
Every last thing is lost
Beware depressed much?

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375409289, Hardcover)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:18 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

"...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..."--dust cover flap.… (more)

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