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.More
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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Great Writing - Not Great Book