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Now, in her dazzling new novel--her first in more than a decade--Moore turns her eye on the anxiety and disconnection of post-9/11 America, on the insidiousness of racism, the blind-sidedness of war, and the recklessness thrust on others in the name of love.
As the United States begins gearing up for war in the Middle East, twenty-year-old Tassie Keltjin, the Midwestern daughter of a gentleman hill farmer--his "Keltjin potatoes" are justifiably famous--has come to a university town as a college student, her brain on fire with Chaucer, Sylvia Plath, Simone de Beauvoir.
Between semesters, she takes a job as a part-time nanny.
The family she works for seems both mysterious and glamorous to her, and although Tassie had once found children boring, she comes to care for, and to protect, their newly adopted little girl as her own.
As the year unfolds and she is drawn deeper into each of these lives, her own life back home becomes ever more alien to her: her parents are frailer; her brother, aimless and lost in high school, contemplates joining the military. Tassie finds herself becoming more and more the stranger she felt herself to be, and as life and love unravel dramatically, even shockingly, she is forever changed.
This long-awaited new novel by one of the most heralded writers of the past two decades is lyrical, funny, moving, and devastating; Lorrie Moore's most ambitious book to date--textured, beguiling, and wise.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 31.
- Review Date: 2009-07-13
- Reviewer: Staff
Moore (Anagrams) knits together the shadow of 9/11 and a young girl's bumpy coming-of-age in this luminous, heart-wrenchingly wry novel—the author's first in 15 years. Tassie Keltjin, 20, a smalltown girl weathering a clumsy college year in “the Athens of the Midwest,” is taken on as prospective nanny by brittle Sarah Brink, the proprietor of a pricey restaurant who is desperate to adopt a baby despite her dodgy past. Subsequent “adventures in prospective motherhood” involve a pregnant girl “with scarcely a tooth in her head” and a white birth mother abandoned by her African-American boyfriend—both encounters expose class and racial prejudice to an increasingly less naïve Tassie. In a parallel tale, Tassie lands a lover, enigmatic Reynaldo, who tries to keep certain parts of his life a secret from Tassie. Moore's graceful prose considers serious emotional and political issues with low-key clarity and poignancy, while generous flashes of wit—Tessie the sexual innocent using her roommate's vibrator to stir her chocolate milk—endow this stellar novel with great heart. (Sept.)
The Moore the merrier
Lorrie Moore fans are a patient bunch. It’s been more than 10 years since her most recent short story collection, and nearly 15 since her last full-length work of fiction, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? Fortunately, her latest offering proves well worth the wait.
A Gate at the Stairs, the author’s third novel, is solidly and delightfully Lorrie Moore territory; there’s the isolated, intelligent female narrator who both hides and survives through her humor and nonchalance; the Midwestern landscape that stretches with ennui and possibility; the pithy wordplay that is as haunting as it is lighthearted (“I had been the minibar—and not the minbar—in this temporary room of lodging,” the main character says, after her boyfriend leaves her for the callings of Islam). But mostly there is the “spot-on-ness” that readers have so come to identify with Moore’s work.
Set soon after the events of September 11th, A Gate at the Stairs follows Tassie Keltjin, the 20-year-old daughter of a potato farmer and an undergraduate at a large Wisconsin college who accepts a babysitting job for an upper-class couple. The catch: there is no baby. Or not yet, at least. Rather, the pair is trying to adopt and sees no problem with inviting Tassie to take part in the process. If this sounds odd, that’s because it is—and it only gets more odd once they get their child and Tassie’s nanny duties become increasingly blurred and all-consuming. After all, what is she to them? An intellectual equal and friend? An inferior member of the “help”? Or a sort of middle ground between themselves and the biracial baby for whom they are now responsible?
The plot takes several bizarre twists, and readers may be tempted to skim the passages where other white parents of African-American children talk about social inequity. But ultimately, we avoid the overly didactic as Moore explores everything from race to class to the war in Iraq in a fairly organic fashion—that is, behind the guise of a refreshingly agenda-less narrator and with a voice so pitch-perfect as to appear effortless.
Jillian Quint is an editor at a publishing house in New York. She lives in Brooklyn.