Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

It’s hard to know what to say about this book that hasn’t already been said. Moore doesn’t need me to plug it for her. It’s interesting that Jonathan Lethem, writing in the New York Times, says he only knows one person who doesn’t care for Moore’s writing. Actually, I know a lot of people who don’t care for her. Lethem says that Moore is “unpretentious and warm” but I disagree. I always found that her books and stories had an edge of nastiness to them. Friends who read this book before I did were not particularly effusive with their praise either. They pronounced it “not as sour as some of her other stuff,” and “better than expected.”

But I’ll go on record saying that I loved this book. It’s still a bit edgy, and it’s hardly warm. But it’s extremely moving, and the writing is wonderful – I love the way she uses language and humor. The story is about Tassie, a college student who works as a nanny for a neurotic white couple who adopt a mixed-race child. But it’s also a story about class, race, politics, love, lying, and growing up. I could find a little fault with some of the overly long descriptions, the various subplots that don’t quite go anywhere, and the times when Moore seems to be trying a bit too hard to be clever, but those would be really minor points. The book certainly adds up to more than the sum of its parts.

As a resident of Madison, Wisconsin, where this book is set (never mind the fictional city name of Troy) I found it hard not to get a little distracted trying to figure out what (and possibly even whom) Moore was using as models. I thought she did an excellent job of capturing the mostly unacknowledged class divides in a city like Madison: between university faculty (who have moved here from elsewhere), and native Madisonians; between UW students from rural areas of Wisconsin (“Sconnies”) and students from the East Coast (who are often Jewish, and known as“Coasties”) and between blacks and whites in a city with rapidly changing demographics.

The book is long, but it’s a fast read. And I do think Moore deserves her accolades.

(Book 7, 2010)


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

So glad you liked this book, I have the audio version of this on my IPOD, but the reviews have seemed mixed.

Jackie Roessler said...

I just got this book from the library today and wasn't so sure about it. It looks like it is worth sticking with it. I love your blog!
Jackie at WCER :)

Eidin said...

Count me among those who are mystified by the praise given this book.

Great review, though.

Citizen Reader said...

Lethem can add me to the list of people who dislike Lorrie Moore!

I enjoyed your review of this book much more than I liked the book. I didn't care about her characters at all, and I'm learning that when I don't care about the characters, it doesn't matter to me how good the writing is. I also didn't care for her acting like people were idiots for asking her how much Troy was based on Madison--to my mind, she really made us sound like provincial jerks. Which, okay, maybe we are, but I'd rather hear that sort of thing from a native provincial jerk.

Marie-Therese said...

I was disappointed, though I usually love Lorrie Moore's take on things. I just thought that if she feels so passionately how screwed up our country is, in so many ways, she needed to actually take the time to build a plot that takes Tassie (and therefore the reader) from emotional point A to emotional point B. So that the reader feels the emotions at the end instead of just observing them.

Wholesale Books said...
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Anonymous said...

i think that if an author can get any reaction out of you, whether good or bad, she did a great job. Feeling emotions at the end of a novel is no different than feeling them at any other given point. She was talented enough to make you feel them at all.

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