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A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
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A Gate at the Stairs (2009)

by Lorrie Moore

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2,0211493,313 (3.38)189
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English (144)  Spanish (4)  French (1)  All languages (149)
Showing 1-5 of 144 (next | show all)
Boring. ( )
  jrbeach | Mar 26, 2016 |
Maybe it's Tassie's age that was the problem for me---this was a very listenable audio but I did get a little tired of her wanderings off into space on various topics. I actually loved the voice of Sarah, the mother figure where Tassie was hired as the nanny---Mia Barron was terrific with the voices!!! I wanted to know what was going to happen and fortunately, the story kept coming back to just that...the progress of Tassie's life. As another reviewer said, I loved parts of it, but other parts, not so much....... And yes, leaving us at the end with too many unanswered questions??? Not my favorite sort of "ending." ( )
  nyiper | Mar 24, 2016 |
Tassie Keltjin is a 20-year-old Midwest farm girl who is now away at college in a larger city than that in which she grew up. She gets a part-time job as a nanny to a couple who are eager to adopt a child; so eager, that she is hired before a child is placed with them, and she is asked to participate in the “parent” interviews. She has a roommate who is mostly absent - spending all her time at her boyfriend’s place - and a possible new romance with a Brazilian student she sits next to in “Intro to Sufism.” Her father grows organic, specialty potatoes that are all the rage in trendy restaurants as far away as Chicago. Her younger brother Robert is struggling in his senior year of high school and trying to decide whether to go into the Army, go to college, or attend the local truck driving school (the latter said only half jokingly), and he wants his sister’s advice.

If that plot summary doesn’t sound gripping, it is because it isn’t. This is more of a character study than a plot-driven story. Moore’s writing is wonderful in places; I kept reading aloud to anyone who would listen. She plays with words and images and completely entertained that part of my brain. But I kept wondering where the story was going.

There are some major things that happen to Tassie. And she is faced with issues of racism, terrorism in post 9/11 America, budding romance, loss of loved ones, etc. A lot of plot elements – big and small – seem to just … end, never to be mentioned again.

*** SPOILER ALERT ***
For example … Baby Mary-Emma is taken away, never to be heard from again. Reynaldo turns out to be not-only-NOT Brazilian, but probably a terrorist … or is he? Murph is nearly poisoned by a concoction made by Tassie’s nutso boss Sarah, apparently with the intent to poison her husband and/or his paramour … or not. The whole scene where she crawls into the casket with the remains of her brother is not just creepy, it’s completely unbelievable.

****SPOILER ENDS****

Okay then … what about character development? I like a character-driven novel. But I have to be able to connect to the character in some way, to understand her (even if I do not like her), to want to know what and how she thinks and feels and how her emotions and values affect her actions. I liked Tassie just fine. We do get a lot of her musings, but there is a lot of rambling in her thoughts and I don’t get a clear sense of who she is. I just didn’t connect with her strongly enough to overcome the lack of plot. As for the other characters in the book … I didn’t connect with them at all.

So I give it 3 stars primarily because I love Moore’s ability with words. Too bad she could not manage to give me a story line that engaged me and kept me wanting more Moore. ( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 27, 2016 |
I didn't expect to like this as much as I did. In that way that impressions form about writers when one has never read them but only heard about them, I expected Moore to have a sort of postmodern whiny narrative voice. But, on the whole, I found the voice here to be much more engaging and compassionate and wise and genuinely funny. I have some hesitations and criticisms, but I will probably read more Moore... ( )
  bibleblaster | Jan 23, 2016 |
Bizarre, sad, post-9/11 story. Definitely not a book for everyone. I just couldn't put this novel down though, such a compelling narrative voice. I liked author Lorrie Moore's style. (on loan from Cindy) ( )
  cjservis | Jan 17, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 144 (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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Epigraph
"As for living, we shall have our servants do that for us."
--VILLIERS DE L'ISLE-ADAM, Axel

"Suzuki!"
Madama Butterfly

"All seats provide equal viewing of the universe."
--MUSEUM GUIDE, HAYDEN PLANETARIUM
Dedication
This book is for Victoria Wilson and Melanie Jackson.
First words
The cold came late that fall and the songbirds were caught off guard.
Quotations
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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