A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

Lorrie Moore can write. She can really write. I’ve just finished her novel, A Gate at the Stairs, which is garnering all sorts of critical attention. I must say, and I am a bit troubled to say this largely because of the sublime quality of Moore’s writing, I found the book simultaneously compelling and off-putting. Or perhaps I should say annoying. Don’t get me wrong–the book is definitely worth reading–but I think it would have been better (and really, who am I to say, but here I go anyway) without all the descriptive detours that Moore seems to delight in.

Moore obviously loves words, and she is a master of metaphors (many seeds she planted would burst into bloom pages later for the observant reader), but all her cleverness with words, all her philosophical meanderings and whimsical musings became exhausting after a while. I kept thinking, can’t we just get on with the story?

The story is what I would call a coming-of-age novel, narrated by an incredibly erudite yet (paradoxically) innocent and tongue-tied Midwestern college girl, Tassie, who takes on a job as babysitter for a white couple who have adopted a part-African American baby. As we go through Tassie’s freshman year of college with her (as reader we are only in Tassie’s head, so we really do go through it with her), we experience her ups and downs and come to see, as she slowly but inexorably comes to see, that life is not all it claims to be.

This is not a book to be read in a hurry, but should be savored. Moore writes passages that just beg to be re-read, or even dissected by those who would give their left arm to be able to write like her. (Or right arm if they are, well, you know what I’m going to say.) And I just know that, even though I didn’t love every bit of it, this novel with stick with me for awhile. Note the bone thrown to Jane Eyre at the end. Love it!

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