Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

A Gate at the Stairs
by Lorrie Moore is one of those books I kept hearing about. I think I first saw a book review in print somewhere or other. From the summary of the plot, it didn't sound all that appealing, so I didn't add it to my "to be read" list. Then I read a review on someone's blog. Ah, that book again. The review was good, but I still wasn't interested. But then I started to see it reviewed over and over again and all the reviews were glowing. I figured I should check it out.

A Gate at the Stairs tells the story of Tassie Keltjin, a college student in the Midwest. Tassie takes a job as a nanny for a white couple who are adopting a biracial little girl - three year old Emmie. In addition, Tassie is experiencing her first serious romance with a fellow college student and also dealing with the reality of her growing independence from her family.

At first, the story really did grab me. But then I began to notice something about the writing. I couldn't really put my finger on it. The writing was good, very good - but not in a way I could describe. It wasn't poetic or clever or beautiful. And then I figured it out - it was intelligent.
And that's why it lost me. I think this book is what you would call a "literary novel". And I usually don't like novels that are too "literary". Somehow I always feel that the story takes a back seat to the writing. And I'm just not intellectual enough to appreciate that kind of book. I appreciate good writing and I consider myself to be a discerning reader, but I read for the story first and the writing second. Unfortunately, the story in A Gate at the Stairs was sacrificed for amazing writing, in my opinion.

The other problem I had with Moore's "intelligent" writing is that she spent pages and pages and pages describing the thought process of Tassie, the main character. At first I enjoyed reading Moore's deft description of the inner workings of Tassie's mind, but after a while I just wanted to get back to the story.

Ah, the story. What exactly was the story in A Gate at the Stairs? From my perspective, there were three very serious and important story lines in this book. And Moore didn't do any of them justice. She started and stopped each one without ever really fully telling any. I really wanted to know more about the main storyline. Why did she need to add two more unfinished plots to this book. It felt very disjointed to me.

Maybe that's the point. Maybe A Gate at the Stairs is supposed to be a reader's view into Tassie's mind - hence all the pages and pages of her thoughts. And these three plot lines were all different things Tassie was dealing with in her life. And of course, in real life nothing gets resolved in 321 pages (or one semester of college). But for me, that adds up to a very unsatisfactory read. Even if it is intelligent and literary.

Have you read A Gate at the Stairs? What did you think? I'd love to hear from you. Especially if you loved it. What was it about that book that you loved?

I would give A Gate at the Stairs 2 STARS - It was OK.

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