A Gate At The Stairs by Lorrie Moore
|A Gate At The Stairs by Lorrie Moore|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Robin Leggett|
|Summary: A Gate at the Stairs features a modern-day Holden Caulfield character in Tassie Keltjin growing up in post 9/11 USA whose charisma carries this story. While there’s plenty of humour throughout the book, ultimately it’s a sad reflection on modern-day America but entertainingly told.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: October 2009|
|Publisher: Faber and Faber|
Bass-playing, 20 year-old Tassie Keltjin is studying an eclectic range of subjects (Geology, British Literature, Sufism, Soundtracks to War Movies and Wine Tasting) in post 9/11 USA when she lands a job as a child minder for chef, Sarah Bink who is adopting an African-American baby. A Gate at the Stairs is at times a very funny and at others a sad reflection of growing up in modern America.
The story is narrated from Tassie’s perspective and her musings on life are beautifully captured, ranging from her nascent thoughts on interracial relationships, to her own first love affair and ultimately to the War in Iraq and Afghanistan when her younger brother enlists. But this is not just the dark humour of many books but a range of humour based on language, puns, misunderstandings and alienation. It is nevertheless ‘laugh out loud’ funny in places - although inevitably some material doesn’t quite reach these peaks. What seems to interest the author is the psychology of jokes from puerile to in-jokes to wisecracks.
Moore’s style is that of free association, with the story branching out into tangential riffs that are initially appealing but over the course of a 300-page novel do at times seem wearing. I started off loving the book, felt less enthusiastic in the middle, only to be won back at the end. There are several passages where Tassie is upstairs (beyond the titular Gate at the Stairs) looking after little Mary Emma and the other children of the attendees of Sarah Bink’s weekly help groups for parents of mixed race children, when snippets of their conversations - mostly about racial issues - are heard by Tassie that become a bit tedious. Moore is far better at capturing Tassie’s mysticism over the culinary efforts of Sarah’s upmarket restaurant.
The story has a number of dark endings and is truly moving at the end. One in particular - which I don’t want to mention for fear of spoiling your enjoyment of the book with potential spoilers - is truly heart breaking and one of the most disturbingly poignant moments I have come across in a book for a very long time.
Moore has written several excellent short stories and it is tempting to suggest that the full novel is perhaps more difficult for her to sustain. In truth, this might have been an even more brilliant novella rather than a full novel, but the power of the story is certainly sufficient to sustain a full novel. And in Tassie Keltjin, she has created one of the most charismatic narrators that I have read for a long time - a sort of grown up Holden Caulfield.
Ultimately the novel is a delicate mix of humour, tragedy and growing up in modern day America.
A Gate at the Stairs has been long list nominated for the 2010 Orange Prize and it’s well worth checking out some of the other titles from that list including The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton, Secret Son by Laila Lalami, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters and Savage Lands by Clare Clark.
You can read more book reviews or buy A Gate At The Stairs by Lorrie Moore at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy A Gate At The Stairs by Lorrie Moore at Amazon.com.
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