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Book Review: A Gate at the Stairs

“A Gate at the Stairs” by Lorrie Moore

The biggest problem with writing about characters who are emotionally “detached” from society and other people is you risk your reader becoming emotionally “detached” from your characters and, likewise, your work as a whole.

Fortunately, author Lorrie Moore has proven many times writing about the human condition from an objective perspective, rather than subjectively can be just as emotionally damning to the reader.

She does this especially well, perhaps more so than ever before in her newest novel, “A Gate at the Stairs,” where her dry and emotionally drained college aged protagonist, Tassie, still manages to break your heart, mend it up, then break it again a dozen or so times before the novel ends.

Set in the ominous, haunting world that is the post-9/11 era, Tassie is an awkward country girl moving to a large (and imaginary) Midwestern college city, where as a means of making money she takes on a nanny position for a couple who adopt a biracial toddler.

It is not ironic that the person Tassie relates most to throughout the entire novel is the toddler. When Tassie experiences issues such as dating trouble, racism, and even terrorism, she does so innocently, obliquely, and as if completely unaware such things in the world could exist.

Although the reader is aware of the darkening of life since the events of 9/11, it is only a brief awareness, a vague awareness, brought on by scenes that are sprinkled throughout the book rather than focused on the entire novel.
Such an issue is when her younger brother leaves to fight in Afghanistan. Another is when her current boyfriend, and perhaps first true love, lies to her about being Muslim.

There are many long, dry spells in the novel where seemingly nothing happens, and at the end of the novel, the reader may find him or herself wondering what exactly occurred in the novel.

Rather than trying to create some kind of moral ending where lessons are learned, Moore instead tries to evoke feelings and emotions within the reader.

There is not always a reason for why things happen in life, but it doesn’t mean that meaningless affects us as humans any less powerfully than a lesson learned

For first time readers of Moore, “A Gate at the Stairs” serves as a perfect example of all her other writing and is a great starting point to accustom oneself to the unsettling viewpoint of an author who knows a lot about what it means to feel human.