Lorrie Moore – A Gate At The Stairs
A Gate At The Stairs is one of “those” books – beautiful writing, intelligent conversation flowing through the book, a sensitive plot, and a book with great potential.
Tassie is a college student in the Mid-western town of Troy, who finds a job as a baby sitter for Sarah, an affluent restaurant-owner who adopts Emmie, a “biracial” child. Sarah is perpetually busy running the upmarket restaurant, and Tassie ends up spending a fair bit of time mothering Emmie.
While there are two other parallel stories (Tassie’s “first love” and Tassie’s brother contemplating his future at the military), the adoption of the biracial two year old by a white couple was the one that had me glued to the book.
When a boy uses the infamous n-word at Emmie, the babysitter reports it to Sarah, who starts a “group” for parents with non-white children. The group meets every Wednesday, and contemplates what the future holds as well as discusses the present-day situation of the African American race. In a post 9/11 world, racism in midwestern America is still rampant, and the lives of the minority is still under question. The snippets of conversation on Wednesday evenings that Moore penned down had me absolutely boggled. Call me naive, but I don’t think much about racism or how a person’s caste or skin colour can affect their place in society. In my ideal world, it shouldn’t, and maybe because I’ve not witnessed it first hand, I’m absolutely oblivious. As Martin Luther King once said, “judge not a man by the colour of his skin, but by the content of his character” – but that doesn’t really happen, does it?
Yes, I’ve read a fair bit about slavery and the troubles African Americans face, but, most of those books are from a different age, and in my little head, that time had just gone by. The unfairness of racial abuse towards biracial children literally had me perplexed!
Anyway, I digress. Back to Moore’s book.
As one might expect, the plot twist comes from a blast from the past that reminds the many characters that the past does not forget. In my opinion, this was a little excessive as well, and Moore was trying to make the plot more dynamic, more “exciting” – to an extent, she did succeed, but, it just left me feeling perplexed.
The book was an interesting read, but, the last seventy pages just ended up taking a gigantic detour and having a story which didn’t really fit in with everything else. Again, maybe it was something that does belong to the post 9/11 world? I don’t know – I think the book would have benefitted from either streamlining the story, or avoiding some of it, despite it being emotionally powerful, and relevant in this day and age.
You can’t fault the writing style though. It’s beautiful, witty, insightful, and although Tassie at times comes across as way too mature for her age, at other times I could relate to her and her college lifestyle. Even Sarah and Edward (Sarah’s husband) characters are well-developed, and while I didn’t care much for the latter, I did sympathise with Sarah.
Think this book is worth a read, and I’d love to read more of Moore’s works, to see if they’re as insightful.
Have you read anything by Moore? How do you think her short stories compare to her novel?
Filed under: Amazon's Best Books Of The Year, Books 2010, General Fiction, Lorrie Moore, New York Times Notable Book Of The Year, Orange Prize Shortlist, Review | 9 Comments
Tags: Adoption, Lorrie Moore