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

Thickly, Lovingly Wordy

This is a substantial post 9-11 tale. Told from the perspective of a 20 year old college student. It deftly illustrates those life changing moments that occur in everyone's life. A girl goes from a farm girl who knows her world to a woman who realizes just how little she knows. I thought it was brilliantly done. I am a fan of words as is Lorrie Moore, she uses them as one would use different flavors to create a gourmet dish. This book is carmelized sage.
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- Melody

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

Book Details

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