Book Review: A Gate at the Stairs – Lorrie Moore

Title: A Gate at the Stairs
Author: Lorrie Moore
ISBN: 9780375409288
Pages: 336
Release Date: September 1, 2009
Publisher: Knopf
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Curled Up With a Good Book
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary:

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.

Review:

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.

Comments

  1. Oh dear. Well, there is one thing that will send me running for the hills and that is the overuse of similes. There are some books that I just want to throw because of it. And it seems that similes (or too many of them) become more obvious to me on audio for some reason.

  2. Oh dear. Well, there is one thing that will send me running for the hills and that is the overuse of similes. There are some books that I just want to throw because of it. And it seems that similes (or too many of them) become more obvious to me on audio for some reason.

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  5. I agree with Sandy-too many similes and metaphors make me as angry as a polar bear in the desert 🙂 See-similes don’t always make everything better!

  6. I agree with Sandy-too many similes and metaphors make me as angry as a polar bear in the desert 🙂 See-similes don’t always make everything better!

  7. I had a similar reaction to this novel. I think she tried to do too much, both in language and theme, and they both fell short for me. It also read to me like she’s still more comfortable as a short story writer. I do want to read her earlier novels, as several have raved about those.

  8. I had a similar reaction to this novel. I think she tried to do too much, both in language and theme, and they both fell short for me. It also read to me like she’s still more comfortable as a short story writer. I do want to read her earlier novels, as several have raved about those.

  9. I wasn’t a big fan of this book either. I thought it felt like several good short stories pasted together – it didn’t work as a novel. It is a shame as I had high hopes for it.

  10. I wasn’t a big fan of this book either. I thought it felt like several good short stories pasted together – it didn’t work as a novel. It is a shame as I had high hopes for it.

  11. I thought about reading this book. But now I’m not so sure anymore

  12. I thought about reading this book. But now I’m not so sure anymore

  13. I have not read this book, but one of her books of short stories (Self-Help) is probably one of my favorite books of all time. She really explores some deep issues among women in that book, and I try to reread it every year. If you haven’t tried that one, I do recommend it!

  14. I have not read this book, but one of her books of short stories (Self-Help) is probably one of my favorite books of all time. She really explores some deep issues among women in that book, and I try to reread it every year. If you haven’t tried that one, I do recommend it!

  15. I don’t think this is for me. I do love great characters, but a plot is essential for me.

  16. I don’t think this is for me. I do love great characters, but a plot is essential for me.

  17. Jennifer says:

    You captured my feelings about this story perfectly!

  18. Jennifer says:

    You captured my feelings about this story perfectly!

  19. Drat. It sounds painful to read.

  20. Drat. It sounds painful to read.

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