A Gate at the Stairs

Lorrie Moore

A Gate at the Stairs
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A Gate at the Stairs

Lorrie Moore

With America quietly gearing up for war in the Middle East, twenty-year-old Tassie Keltjin, a ‘half-Jewish’ farmer’s daughter from the plains of the Midwest, has come to university - escaping her provincial home to encounter the complex world of culture and politics. When she takes a job as a part-time nanny to a couple who seem at once mysterious and glamorous, Tassie is drawn into the life of their newly-adopted child and increasingly complicated household.

As her past becomes increasingly alien to her - her parents seem older when she visits; her disillusioned brother ever more fixed on joining the military - Tassie finds herself becoming a stranger to herself. As the year unfolds, love leads her to new and formative experiences - but it is then that the past and the future burst forth in dramatic and shocking ways.

Refracted through the eyes of this memorable narrator, A Gate at the Stairs is a lyrical, beguiling and wise novel of our times.

Review

Lorrie Moore is best known for her short stories; her passionate fans include Nick Hornby and Dave Eggers. She crafts intricate portraits of ordinary people living lives that have spun off the road at some point, people in the midst of figuring out where and how they went wrong and if they can find their way back. She combines beautiful sentences and deft imagery with sharp, perfectly tuned dialogue, a wry observer’s humour and deep pathos.

A Gate at the Stairs, her first novel in ten years, has all these qualities. Moore tackles American class, race, consumerism and the post-9/11 landscape against the backdrop of America’s mid-west (middle America in every sense), moving between an isolated farm town and the state’s university town. When student Tassie Keltjin takes a job as a part-time nanny to a well-off couple, she has little idea of the emotional and ethical freight it will carry. Back home, her high-school-age brother has been targeted by military recruiters, and is considering the armed forces as a way out of his bleak-seeming future.

This extraordinarily moving novel balances wonderful moments of social satire with an evocative coming-of-age story and a perfectly pitched warning about the dangers (moral and mortal) of how we live now.

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