Tuesday, 9 March 2010
A Gate at the Stairs: Review
By Lorrie Moore
Published by Alfred A. Knopf
Published in 2009
It's a feeling familiar to many of us, I'm sure, that desire for escape from the seemingly narrow-minded and suffocating hometown to the bright lights and stimulation of university in the city. It's an intoxicating mix of new people, new ideas and, most of all, freedom. At eighteen we think ourselves old enough to handle it all, but in reality most of us are only just finding our feet and so the results can range from the cringe-worthy to the downright disastrous. Enter Tassie Keltjin, daughter of an under-emotional mother and a father who has made his name growing gourmet potatoes, who has grown up in a nondescript small rural town who has been seduced by Chaucer, Sylvia Plath and Simone de Beauvoir and is doing all she can to shed her old skin and become someone new.
She takes on a part-time job as a childcare provider for two professionals who are in the process of adopting a child, falls in love with a exotic boy from her Sufism class and along the way learns some very hard lessons. Tassie is a loveable character, endearingly neurotic and naiive, quick to fall in love and eager to try new things, be it learning Portugese or eating Chinese food. To be honest, she really reminded me of myself when I was 18 or 19 years old.
The writing in this book is excellent. Reading it is like savouring a really good cheese with a glass of wine outside on a warm summer's evening - it's blissful and almost a little indulgent but in the best way possible. Moore usually writes short stories, something which is evident in the way she puts her prose together. It comes off as thoughtful but at the same time effortlessly elegant making this book truly a pleasure to read.
The reason I read this book was for my thesis on post-9/11 literature. This book is the most recently published example of this genre that I've read and found it to be the most subtle in its dealings with the events of the day. This story moves beyond the horror, the smoke and the images and skates into less explored territory of estrangement and disconnection between people. It makes for a delicate and in-depth look into the psyche of America, one that has moved beyond the knee-jerk reactions, through the dead-eyed traumatic reactions and out the other side into the reflective. It's interesting to see the evolution of responses develop.
A Gate at the Stairs is a novel that will hold up under any level of scrutiny, from those wanting a piece of well-written escapism through to those who want to dig around in the bowels of the thing for further meaning. It doesn't matter who you are - I really recommend this book. There is only one thing I would say: before you read it, don't read the dust jacket blurb. It's a little misleading and can colour your expectations of the text in a way that will leave you dissatisfied. It's better to know less and enjoy the story as it unfolds rather than expect it to go one way and be disappointed when it doesn't!