Summary and book reviews of A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

A Gate at the Stairs

by Lorrie Moore

A Gate at the Stairs
  • Critics' Opinion:

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  • First Published:
    Sep 2009, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2010, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lucia Silva

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About this Book

Book Summary

A novel 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.

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 novel—her first in more than a decade—Moore 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 farmer—his “Keltjin potatoes” are justifiably famous—has 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 Moore’s most ambitious book to date—textured, beguiling, and wise.

I

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 people’s 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 stricken—though what bird in the best of circumstances does not look a little stricken—until 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 expression—of politeness, a false promise of delicacy—for in fact I wondered about them all the time: imagining them dead, in stunning heaps in some killing ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of A Gate at the Stairs, the powerful, poignant, and laugh-out-loud story of a young woman's coming of age in the Midwest in the unsettling aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 2001 and America's buildup to war.

About This Book

Tassie Keltjin has come from a small farming town to attend college in Troy, "the Athens of the Midwest." She's swept into a thrilling world of books and films and riveting lectures, high-flying discussions about Bach, Balkanization, and bacterial warfare, and the witty repartee of her fellow students. At the end of the semester, Tassie takes a job as a...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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).

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Media Reviews

The Washington Post

What's so endearing is Moore's ability to tempt us with humor into the surreal boundaries of human experience, those strange decisions that make no sense out of context, the things we can't believe anyone would do.

The New York Times

Ms. Moore gives us stark, melancholy glimpses into her characters' hearts, mapping their fears and disappointments, their hidden yearnings and their more evanescent efforts to hold on to their dreams in the face of unfurling misfortune.

The New York Times Book Review

[Moore]'s a discomfiting, sometimes even rageful writer, lurking in the disguise of an endearing one. On finishing A Gate at the Stairs I turned to the reader nearest to me and made her swear to read it immediately

Library Journal

The challenge for readers is to reconcile the beautiful sharpness of her language with two wildly improbable plot threads.

Kirkus Reviews

The enrichment of such complications makes this one of the year's best novels, yet it is Tassie's eye that makes us better readers of life.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [A] luminous, heart-wrenchingly wry novel. . . Moore’s graceful prose considers serious emotional and political issues with low-key clarity and poignancy. . . generous flashes of wit endow this stellar novel with great heart.

Booklist

Starred Review. The unique vision and exquisite writing cast a spell.

Reader Reviews

J. Hampshire

Wouldn't recommend
In our small book club of seven no one enjoyed this book. Perhaps our club is to new and our reading skills are not all that deep. We just want to read a good story and we sure did not find it in this book. There are so many things going one it's as ...   Read More

shelly

A Gate At The Stairs
I read this book with my book group or I never would have finished it. I kept thinking "what am I missing?" because I just didn't get it. I thought it was written by an 18 year old so I guess in that regard the author nailed the voice. Then...   Read More

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