Laurie Blum, September 09, 2009
(view all comments by Laurie Blum)
As I was raising my young family, I always thought that when "a gate at the stairs" was installed, the purpose was to protect children from accidentally falling!
After reading Lorrie Moore's "A Gate at the Stairs" I now realize that this new novel's title refers to a meditation on the meaning of life, death, race, in addition to parenting. It's a unique tale of growing up, meeting new people & getting to know your own family better. This book is narrated by main character Tessa, a 20-year old, who was raised in a farming town & goes to the "big city," where she is surprised to discover Asian restaurants, dishonest men & a roommate with as much energy for life as she possesses. Tessa is hired as the nanny to an African American little girl adopted by caucasian parents, who have some significantly odd ideas about parenting plus a colorful history.
Though "A Gate At The Stairs" takes many sorrow-filled heartrending twists & turns, Tessa is not maudlin or maddening. She seems very real, crawls right into your heart & soul. I really enjoyed this book but gave it only 4 stars based on some chapters of endless "overheard" dialogue, mostly addressing race, which ended up sounding like a lecture or a rambling TV talk show. My other concern is that Ms. Moore lets Tessa have just a little bit too much fun with puns & rhymes albeit amusing & inventive. Still, I give this book my personal thumb's up as a beautiful, challenging work of character, plot & graceful, descriptive language, which will provide numerous issues for discussion. Do not miss this author's short stories!