The Gate At The Stairs
I've been in a bit of a funk lately - after reading Bill Simmons' epic tome, The Book of Basketball, I've read some real stinkers - Chuck Klosterman and A.J. Jacobs recent books were real disappointments, so I decided to dive into a book I bought a little while ago but have been saving because I assumed it would be great.
Suffice it to say it wasn't.
Lorrie Moore is an insanely talented writer - her collection of stories, Birds of America, is so brilliant it should probably be required reading. And yet, after reading her latest - and first full length - novel, The Gate At The Stairs, I feel like I need to pick Birds back up to remind me of why I like her writing so much.
Yep, it's that bad. Click the link below to read the full depressing review.
The protagonist of the novel is Tassie Keltjin, a 20 year old college student who takes on a job as the nanny for an older couple who have [illegally] adopted a bi-racial girl.
I should note that the book is set in the months after 9/11, something noted in every review I read before purchasing the book and, as far as I can tell, almost wholly irrelevant to the book. I really can't figure out why this gets mentioned - because the two relevant aspects - a man Tassie dates and her brother enlisting the army - are either not flushed out nearly enough or so patently obvious in their conclusions that they made me feel sure I was missing the bigger point.
Moore goes to great lengths to show Tassie's sassiness (she rides a scooter! She plays the bass! She's totally disaffected!) as well as mock the politically uber-correct -- notably when Tassie eavesdrops on a parents group she's enlisted to babysit for. Parents of bi-racial children get together and their conversations are just slapped together since Tassie is listening in. The conversations are maddening, and way too clever, and of course that's the point.
But ... there is just about NOBODY to like here. Not even Tassie, who suffers through some predictable disappointments. Certainly not the parents she nannies for who are particularly loathsome, and not her barely present boyfriend whose secret seems relevant and shocking - and then after being revealed halfway through the book never returns again. Moore seems intent on making commentary about politics, Starbucks and war - all of which I probably agree with, but they don't advance the story a whit.
It would be fine if nobody was likeable, I've read and enjoyed plenty of those books - but there isn't really much of a plot here. It's a tale about a part of a young woman's life where she goes through what can only be called some bad shit. It's certainly not intolerable - I finished it, there are many clever sentences along the way - but it falls so short of expectations, of fulfilling the promise the book sets up for itself, that any way you slice it, The Gate at the Stairs is a true disappointment.
Rating: 4.0 out of 10.0