Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs

A Gate at the Stairs was my introduction to Lorrie Moore's work; subsequent research offered me short stories, much older than this title, after I had finished most of the novel.  Like my brief encounter with her short stories, which captivated me, I fell hard for A Gate at the Stairs.

I must admit that I found this particular title so alluring, initially, because I loved the cover art.  It featured a stairway leading into a great big mess of orange nothingness, which I found rather intriguing.  However, when I finally came across a used copy up in Winston-Salem, it featured a completely different scene: stark greenery surrounding a simple two-story middle American home.  Hmmm...I began to wonder.  So after a brief period of reader's block, I decided to pick up A Gate of the Stairs, and was not disappointed.

The novel is told from the perspective of our protagonist, Tassie Keltjin, a young Midwesterner who's recently moved from a small farm to a college town. 

Although the novel is very much a coming-of-age narrative, Moore offers a fresh perspective, namely, caustic commentary on behalf of the narrator.  Tassie's ability to look at the humorous side of serious incidents can be both irritating and entertaining; she is, afterall, a child still growing, reacting to situations the only way she's ever known how, most admittedly, in fact.  I find that this might be the most endearing aspect of Tassie's character; she fully accepts that she's lived a life most sheltered on her parents farm, and she strives to learn about the world, in fact, she hungrily accepts the knowledge gained from the college atmosphere.  She realizes that there are so many situations that she's never encountered, may never encounter. The reader witnesses her start to understand herself, and recognizes the keen intellect that resides within her person. 

Moore has this way of forcing an audience to watch these very awkward encounters unfold, including a little morbid dialogue, that culminates and emerges into highly addictive and normalized interaction.

There are, however, some aspects of the book that seemed quite unbelievable. Examples: the fact that Sarah and Edward have literally hopped around, or even the entire scene with the child being taken from their home. The novel certainly had it's ups and downs. 

This quotation from the book sums up my experience, and adoration, of this narrative:
"I ran north and north and north and could perhaps have run all the way to Canada, where, paralyzed with sadness and exhaustion, my arms and fingers would stiffen upward and I would, in one of grief's mythic transformations, become a maple tree, my sappy tears cooked down to syrup for someone's flapjacks."
After a particularly devastating incident, Tassie decides to run out into the cold world around her, yet she still manages to find cynical humor in her predictament.  And I really enjoyed this characteristic.

Definitely recommend it to all those that love a little cynicism and wit.  Furthermore, the language is quite moving, and Moore is a must if you haven't read her work before.


  1. I haven't read any Moore, but this sounds like something I would really like. Great review :)

  2. Just found your blog from Lit Musing's tweet and was really glad to see you review this book. I'm not sure there's been any book in 2010 that has had such a range of opinions.

    A Gate At The Stairs was my first Lorrie Moore too, and I wasn't quite a fan - but it's easy to recognize the talent. Lots of folks on my review (here if you're interested) said her short stories really showcase her talent. So I've been meaning to check them out, but haven't made it yet...

    I do definitely agree with you about the wit, and beautiful language. Nice review!

  3. Brenna, Thanks for spreading the word!

  4. Greg, There were definitely parts of the novel that I wasn't thrilled with, and perhaps it's the fact that I reallly loved Tassie's character. I felt I could relate to her personality at this age, remembering a time, in my own life, when I discovered similar emotions. I have a habit of being quite the humorous cynic. I could also relate to her living in her head at times; you know, having these absurb conversations with herself in really serious situations, or even the small intellectual discussions/theories she has with herself, yet doesn't (or perhaps Moore doesn't show us that perspective) utter those ideas to those around her.

    Her short stories are incredible; I highly encourage those who've heard of her, but haven't found her work, to do so now. I was surprised it had taken me so long to discover her work.

    Thanks for commenting! And I can't wait to check out your review. Always love a great discussion.

  5. I don't know why, but I absolutely LOVE the cover of this one. I haven't heard of the book or the author, but I'll be looking it up! Thanks for the review.

  6. I encourage it. I'd like to hear what you think of it if you do decide to read it!

  7. You certainly liked this one more than I did! I did like her writing for the most part, but it did not work as a whole for me. I'm not a huge fan of short stories, but I would like to try to read more novels by her. I'm glad you found one to love! Also, for what it's worth, I like the paperback cover better:-)

  8. Carrie, I find that I like short stories more when I listen to them as opposed to reading them myself. So far, most people have expressed that they weren't particularly thrilled with it, but I really enjoyed it for so many reasons. There are, of course, shortcomings. I'll admit that it did take me a while to really get into the story; I felt like putting it down at the start.

    Glad everyone's sharing their opinions! :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...