Lorrie Moore - A Gate at the Stairs (3 stars)

Lorrie Moore - A Gate at the Stairs


Lorrie Moore is a writer who doesn’t exactly believe in rushing things. Not only is A Gate at the Stairs her first book since her 1998 short story collection Birds of America, but it seemingly takes an eternity to get anywhere, steadily and earnestly setting out the inner workings of her characters, before showing us her hand with some devastating twists and revelations. These segments are so harsh that Moore has admitted to crying her way through the writing of them.

Twenty-year-old Tassie Keltjin is a potato farmer’s daughter who has fled the rural backwaters of the Midwest to embroil herself in the whirl of university life in a town called Troy. There she works part-time as ‘nanny’ to a dysfunctional couple with a sad past who are desperately trying to adopt a child while she harbours deep concerns about her brother who seems fixed on joining the army. And little wonder she is worried. The book is set in the autumn of 2001 and America’s post-9/11 fear and suspicion is sprinkled throughout before being tackled head-on in its latter sections.

It’s a book about war, children, hate and notions of what ‘America’ means, but mostly it’s about showing off the array of talents which make Lorrie Moore such a bold and addictive literary writer. The wholly admirable A Gate at the Stairs is packed with allusion and smothered in imagery, but whose journey to its bitter ending is often too cluttered to fully savour.

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