Title: A Gate at the Stairs
Author: Lorrie Moore
Release Date: September 1, 2009
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Curled Up With a Good Book
Rating: 3 out of 5
Tassie Keltjin is an undergraduate student living in a Midwestern university town. Needing some extra money, she decides to take a job as a part-time nanny for a childless couple looking to adopt. Sarah Brink is a chef who has her own restaurant, while Edward specializes in eye cancer research. Tassie travels with the two to visit their potential babies and birth mothers, and begins to see the quirks that characterize this family. As she experiences her own coming-of-age, Tassie becomes part of this new, slightly unbalanced family.
Lorrie Moore’s novel The Gate at the Stairs is an interesting look at a girl and her coming-of-age in Midwestern America. Moore tackles a multitude of subjects here – there is racism, and even more interestingly, a reverse racism where different races are used specifically for their diversity. There’s also an exploration of the nanny-child relationship and what happens when a child looks to her caregiver rather than her mother for support. There’s plenty of wit present in this novel as well. Moore injects a good amount of humor in this book, and more often than not the reader will be left smirking from the unique conversations and plot points in the novel.
However, The Gate at the Stairs also has many flaws which prevent it from being a great work of literary fiction. First, there is barely a plot to hold this book together. The real driving force is the mystery behind Sarah and Edward, and it fizzles very quickly. The book meanders at its own, plodding pace, never really coming to a point. There’s a lot of description, but not a lot going on to describe. Additionally, Moore’s writing is extremely florid and unnecessarily verbose. She uses sentences when a mere phrase would do. Also, the sheer number of similes and metaphors are overwhelming. The metaphor in the title, The Gate at the Stairs, along with all the others present in the novel, is clear early on and doesn’t need to be reinforced so many time.
The Gate at the Stairs was, above all, Tassie’s coming-of-age story, though the frequent, sometimes aimless subplots take away from this main goal. It’s a book that shows a lot of promise, but the execution is flawed. Here’s hoping that Lorrie Moore’s next effort has some tighter editing and a more straightforward story.