In her best-selling story collection, Birds of America ([it] will stand by itself as one of our funniest, most telling anatomies of human love and vulnerability James McManus, front page of The New York Times Book Review), Lorrie Moore wrote about the disconnect between men and women, about the precariousness of women on the edge, and about loneliness and loss.
Now, in her dazzling new novelher first in more than a decadeMoore turns her eye on the anxiety and disconnection of post-9/11 America, on the insidiousness of racism, the blind-sidedness of war, and the recklessness thrust on others in the name of love.
As the United States begins gearing up for war in the Middle East, twenty-year-old Tassie Keltjin, the Midwestern daughter of a gentleman hill farmerhis Keltjin potatoes are justifiably famoushas come to a university town as a college student, her brain on fire with Chaucer, Sylvia Plath, Simone de Beauvoir.
Between semesters, she takes a job as a part-time nanny.
The family she works for seems both mysterious and glamorous to her, and although Tassie had once found children boring, she comes to care for, and to protect, their newly adopted little girl as her own.
As the year unfolds and she is drawn deeper into each of these lives, her own life back home becomes ever more alien to her: her parents are frailer; her brother, aimless and lost in high school, contemplates joining the military. Tassie finds herself becoming more and more the stranger she felt herself to be, and as life and love unravel dramatically, even shockingly, she is forever changed.
This long-awaited new novel by one of the most heralded writers of the past two decades is lyrical, funny, moving, and devastating; Lorrie Moores most ambitious book to datetextured, beguiling, and wise.
The cold came late that fall and the songbirds were caught off guard. By the time the snow and wind began in earnest, too many had been suckered into staying, and instead of flying south, instead of already having flown south, they were huddled in peoples yards, their feathers puffed for some modicum of warmth. I was looking for a job. I was a student and needed babysitting work, and so I would walk from interview to interview in these attractive but wintry neighborhoods, the eerie multitudes of robins pecking at the frozen ground, dun-gray and strickenthough what bird in the best of circumstances does not look a little strickenuntil at last, late in my search, at the end of a week, startlingly, the birds had disappeared. I did not want to think about what had happened to them. Or rather, that is an expressionof politeness, a false promise of delicacyfor in fact I wondered about them all the time: imagining them dead, in stunning heaps in some killing ...
It's hard to fight the urge to scrawl "love love love" in red crayon across the page, or to make a beribboned valentine full of sappy verse in lieu of actually reviewing Lorrie Moore's new book. She tops all my lists (top 10 books, top 5 writers, books you'd take to a deserted island), and my copies of her novels and short stories are filled with bookmarked passages, lovingly read over and over again. Is A Gate at the Stairs her best work? No. But it may be the one that finally brings her the readership she deserves.
(Reviewed by Lucia Silva).
Full Review (625 words).
If you liked A Gate at the Stairs, try these:
Transcendent stories: about the uncertain gestures of love, about the betrayals and gifts of the body, about the surprises and bounties of the heart, and about what comes to us unbidden and what we choose.
A moving depiction of the transformative power of first love, Hamann's first novel follows Eveline Auerbach from her high school years in East Hampton, New York, in the 1970s through her early adulthood in the moneyed, high-pressured Manhattan of the 1980s.
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