A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

November 11, 2009

gate at the stairs Plot summary (with spoilers): Tassie Keltjin is a 20-year-old college student from a small, Midwestern farming community. During winter break, instead of wanting to travel new york or do anything exciting, Tassie applies for a nanny position and is hired by Sarah Brink, a forty-something woman who is getting ready to adopt a child with her husband Edward. Much of the first part of the novel consists of scenes showing how Tassie, Sarah, and Edward all interact with each other.

Once the adoption goes through, Sarah and Edward become the proud parents of Mary-Emma, a biracial two-year-old whose appearance causes a stir even in the supposedly liberal college town where the Brinks live. The next section of the book consists of random scenes of Tassie taking care of Mary-Emma, while Sarah and Edward hover at the periphery. At the same time, Tassie is starting classes again and is starting to date a Brazilian student named Reynaldo.

And that is about all that happened through 60 percent of the novel — which was as much of Lorrie Moore’s clever writing as I could handle before chucking the book aside in disgust and frustration.


  • The novel started off well. I thought I could warm to Tassie as the protagonist, and I liked Sarah in the early going too.


  • Where was the editor for this manuscript? Moore completely overwrote this book, filling it with countless metaphors, rhetorical questions, gripes at society, witticisms, and virtual eye-rolling. Strip away the flowery prose and what are you left with? Not much of a story through the first 60 percent, which is a real shame. It’s the author indulging her ego, nothing more
  • There was absolutely no plot movement or discernible shift in character arc during the portion that I read. Seriously, through all those pages, the only change I could point to was that Sarah and Edward’s adoption was finalized. I’m not asking for a page-turning thriller here; but this kind of standstill was inexcusable.
  • Tassie turned out to be an utter bore. Where the hell did she develop such a world-weary, insightful take on life? She was supposed to be some unsophisticated girl from a farming town. I hate these types of precocious narrators who are unbelievably wise beyond their years. So. Annoying.

As I said, I made it through 60 percent of A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore before giving up on it. As such, this book earns the dubious distinction of being my very first 0-star rating here at Fervent Reader. I tried my best to keep going, particularly since I’d read that the ending was “shocking”. Unfortunately, I simply couldn’t force myself through all the dreck leading up to the major twist and have to write this one off as a lost cause. Again, I give the book 0 stars out of 5.

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