A Gate at the Stairs

  • by Lorrie Moore
  • Narrated by Mia Barron
  • 12 hrs and 3 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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 has come to a university town as a college student, her brain on fire with Chaucer, Sylvia Plath, Simone de Beauvoir. She takes a part-time job as a nanny, to a mysterious and glamorous couple. 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.

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Audible Editor Reviews

A Gate at the Stairs is a campus novel, and part of its intricate purpose is to tell us what the protagonist learns at school. Tassie is the daughter of a boutique farmer in Wisconsin whose neighbors suspect him of dilettantism for his low acreage and fancifully bred potatoes. Her younger brother Robert is about to graduate from high school totally unequipped with any kind of ambition, and a war in Afghanistan is about to midwife a war in Iraq. It's 2002, and Tassie is burying her uncertainties in scattershot classwork, a new job, and a first attempt at romance.Narrator Mia Barron has an ironic tone that keeps her voice grounded, and she plays with the level of anxiety in the voices of the main characters. Tassie goes to work as a babysitter for Sarah Brink, who is about to adopt a baby, and muses during their interview on the Midwestern tic of agreeing by saying "Sounds good!" — a phrase so unassuming that it's "mere positive description". Forever accomodating in this way, Tassie allows herself to be drawn into a family drama she's wildly unprepared for. The engine of this drama is Sarah, and Barron's performance makes her voice distinctively high and tight, brittle but controlled. At first, this control seems only a cover for new-mother jitters, but as time goes on we begin to detect something darker beneath.Life is arbitrary and chaotic in Moore's world, and the inner monologues of her characters are correspondingly thick with puns: accidental, meaningless resonances between words that have no real relationship each other. An overheard conversation at a support group slips from talk about "suffering sweepstakes" to "suffering succotash". How can anyone be sure what they mean when they have to rely on these slippery words? What Tassie learns during this year of college is that in life, as in language, it's easy to find false affinities. If this sounds light, it's not. What's said is complex, and what isn't said has devastating consequences. —Rosalie Knecht

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Great Writing - Not Great Book

Lorrie Moore is a terrific writer of short stories. I found many of the qualities of those stories in this book - funny, ironic, fierce and clear-eyed about people, close observation of social norms, and dead-on dialogue. But this novel didn't work for me. It hung on plot devices and characters' backstories that were unbelievable - and not in an intentional absurdist way - just out there. The connection to 9/11 seemed very thin, and most of the characters felt underdeveloped over the length of the book - keenly portrayed for a few scenes but not with much depth. Still, I kept thinking wow can Lorrie Moore write! Sometimes sad, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Narration was well-suited to the main character's voice. Looking forward to more short story masterpieces from Moore.
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- Wendy

not believable

Tassie reminds me of a kid who, after going strong for hours straight, comes in for dinner. When Dad asks, "What did you do today?" the reply is "Nothing." So disinterested in her life or the world, I hoped Tassie would drop out of the story and put both of us out of our misery. Maybe that's how you tell the tale of a post-9/11 20-year old, but it just didn't catch me the way it apparently appealed to others.

Much of the story was just not believable for me. Tassie becomes a nanny. She is described as very good at child care, but how can someone who is so matter-of-fact, unemotional and detached ever do so much as say "GOO!" to a small child?

While she's babysitting a group of children, Tassie can somehow hear long stretches of conversation 2 floors below. Really? This means (a) the children would have to be completely still AND (b) Tassie would have to be ignoring them - yet she gets kudos for doing such a good job.

Tassie's employer owns a fine restaurant. The author's discussion suggests she's maybe eaten a few nice meals, but I don't think she has any idea, really, about food, cooking, menus, or running a restaurant. She tries too hard to come up with odd flavor and component combinations.

The story about Sarah and Edward leaving their 4-year old on the Mass Turnpike, going to jail, changing their names and moving to the midwest. C'mon, gimme a break!

I'm sure it's possible for a university student such as Tassie to wind up enrolled in that liberal arts-gone-wild combo of courses she's taking, but her college experience sounds more like the 70s than present day. (Or maybe that's just my hope as university faculty?)

Clearly, some people really enjoyed this, so I encourage others to listen to the sample. If you like the narration, it will give you a good idea about how you'll respond to the book. If you aren't immediately captured, don't waste your time.
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- Diane

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-10-2009
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.