Reviews for Gate at the Stairs
Booklist Reviews 2009 July #1
*Starred Review* Readers of Moore's other works will feel right at home with this one, which recounts a year in the life of college student Tassie Keltgin. Although not completely part of her small Wisconsin farming community (her mother is Jewish, her father grows exotic potatoes), she feels adrift in the college town of Troy. She is hired as a child-care provider by Sarah and Edward Brink-Thornwood, sophisticated transplants from the East Coast who are in the process of adopting a child. The child they end up with is Mary, a biracial two-year-old. Sarah, owner of a high-end restaurant, and Edward, a researcher at the university, are curiously uninvolved parents, and Tassie and Mary are left to their own devices more often than not. Tassie herself is "fresh from childhood," as she puts it, her head still stuffed with fairy tales. Through the events of the year, which include sexual initiation, brushes with racism, heartbreaking revelations, and family tragedy, she discovers that the adult world has "grim and gruesome" fairy tales of its own. Moore serves up disorder and disaster but also humor and a feast of recurring themes--the way people use language; the changing of the seasons; food, from mashed bananas for babies to fennel-cured salmon noisettes. The unique vision and exquisite writing cast a spell. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2009 July #2
In How Fiction Works, the tutorial by the New Yorker critic and Harvard professor, James Wood writes, "Literature makes us better noticers of life; we get to practice on life itself; which in turn makes us better readers of detail in literature; which in turn makes us better readers of life. And so on and on."Contemporary fiction has produced few noticers with a better eye and more engaging voice than Tassie Keltjin, the narrator of Lorrie Moore's deceptively powerful A Gate at the Stairs. For much of Moore's first novel in 15 years--her short stories have established her as something of a Stateside Alice Munro--Tassie's eye and ear are pretty much all there is to the book.And they are more than enough, for the 20-year-old college student makes for good company. Perceptive, with a self-deprecating sense of humor, she lulls the reader into not taking the matter-of-fact events of Tassie's life too seriously, until that life darkens through a series of events that even the best noticers might not have predicted.Because her ostensible roommate now lives with a boyfriend, we get to know Tassie very well--as a fully fleshed character rather than a type--and spend a lot of time inside her head. She splits her year between the university community more liberal than the rest of the Midwest and the rural Wisconsin town where her father is considered more of a "hobbyist" farmer than a real one."What kind of farmer's daughter was I?" she asks. A virgin, but more from lack of opportunity than moral compunction (she compares her dating experiences to an invisible electric fence for dogs), and a bass player, both electric and stand-up. Singing along to her instrument, she describes "trying to find the midway place between melody and rhythm--was this searching not the very journey of life?"Explains Moore of her protagonist, "Once I had the character and voice of Tassie I felt I was on my way. She would be the observer of several worlds that were both familiar and not familiar to her…Initially I began in the third person and it was much more of a ghost story and there were a lot of sisters and, well, it was a false start."It's hard to imagine this novel working in the third person, because we need to see Tassie's life through her eyes. As she learns some crucial lessons outside the classroom, the reader learns as well to be a better noticer. Tassie's instincts are sound, but her comic innocence takes a tragic turn, as she falls into her first serious romance, finds a job as nanny for an adopted, biracial baby and suffers some aftershocks from 9/11 a long way from Manhattan. The enrichment of such complications makes this one of the year's best novels, yet it is Tassie's eye that makes us better readers of life. And so on and on.First printing of 100,000. Author tour to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Madison, Wis., Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2009 May #1
Wry, dry, and funny 'til it hurts, Moore has always been an eyewitness to America, and here she digs even deeper, probing war, racism, and betrayal post-9/11. With a 13-city tour; reading group guide. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal Reviews 2009 August #1
Just months after 9/11, college student Tassie Keltjin, the brilliant daughter of a Midwestern farmer, becomes a part-time nanny for an older white couple who have adopted an African American baby. Enjoying her delightful young charge and reveling in her love affair with her Brazilian boyfriend, Tassie has a growing suspicion that her employers are somehow off. When their identities, as well as her boyfriend's, are blown, Tassie heads home, only to be hit with another, more devastating shock. VERDICT Moore uses the same kind of poetic precision of language found in her dazzling short story collections (e.g., Birds of America) to draw the reader into her long-awaited third novel (after Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?). The challenge for readers is to reconcile the beautiful sharpness of her language with two wildly improbable plot threads. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/09.]--Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI [Page 70]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 July #2
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 nave 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.) [Page 31]. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.