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A Gate at the Stairs | [Lorrie Moore]

A Gate at the Stairs

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.
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Audible Editor Reviews

A Gate at the Stairs is a campus novel, and part of its intricate purpose is to tell us what the protagonist learns at school. Tassie is the daughter of a boutique farmer in Wisconsin whose neighbors suspect him of dilettantism for his low acreage and fancifully bred potatoes. Her younger brother Robert is about to graduate from high school totally unequipped with any kind of ambition, and a war in Afghanistan is about to midwife a war in Iraq. It's 2002, and Tassie is burying her uncertainties in scattershot classwork, a new job, and a first attempt at romance.

Narrator Mia Barron has an ironic tone that keeps her voice grounded, and she plays with the level of anxiety in the voices of the main characters. Tassie goes to work as a babysitter for Sarah Brink, who is about to adopt a baby, and muses during their interview on the Midwestern tic of agreeing by saying "Sounds good!" — a phrase so unassuming that it's "mere positive description". Forever accomodating in this way, Tassie allows herself to be drawn into a family drama she's wildly unprepared for. The engine of this drama is Sarah, and Barron's performance makes her voice distinctively high and tight, brittle but controlled. At first, this control seems only a cover for new-mother jitters, but as time goes on we begin to detect something darker beneath.

Life is arbitrary and chaotic in Moore's world, and the inner monologues of her characters are correspondingly thick with puns: accidental, meaningless resonances between words that have no real relationship each other. An overheard conversation at a support group slips from talk about "suffering sweepstakes" to "suffering succotash". How can anyone be sure what they mean when they have to rely on these slippery words? What Tassie learns during this year of college is that in life, as in language, it's easy to find false affinities. If this sounds light, it's not. What's said is complex, and what isn't said has devastating consequences. —Rosalie Knecht

Publisher's Summary

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 has come to a university town as a college student, her brain on fire with Chaucer, Sylvia Plath, Simone de Beauvoir. She takes a part-time job as a nanny, to a mysterious and glamorous couple. 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.

©2009 Lorrie Moore; ©2009 BBC Audiobooks America

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.4 (257 )
5 star
 (47)
4 star
 (80)
3 star
 (71)
2 star
 (39)
1 star
 (20)
Overall
3.3 (78 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
 (7)
Story
3.6 (76 )
5 star
 (20)
4 star
 (25)
3 star
 (20)
2 star
 (5)
1 star
 (6)
Performance
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  •  
    Lisa Valley Village, CA, United States 11-03-09
    Lisa Valley Village, CA, United States 11-03-09 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
    29
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    "A simile-fest"

    Lorrie Moore never met a simile she didn't like--there must be hundreds of descriptions in that form throughout this book. It is writing so clever that one must stop to admire it, which distances the reader from the plot, as thin as it is. Mostly it is the slow revelations of a young college narrator who learns about love and loss in a year of her life. I enjoyed listening to it, although it is not a book I would recommend to people as a book "you can't put down" because it meanders often and sometimes feels like a meditation on life, which doesn't always compel me in an audiobook.

    But the narrator, Mia Barron, is spot on with her ironic smarminess and voice of youthful longing. Get this one if you admire the great wordsmiths and like to be amazed by unusual talent.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    E East Boston, MA, United States 11-23-13
    E East Boston, MA, United States 11-23-13
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    2
    1
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Maybe not the best introduction to Lorrie Moore?"

    This was my first time listening to/reading anything by Lorrie Moore, and while I wanted to give the book a chance, the narration ruined for me. It seemed that the narrator made the decision to utter any dialogue among characters in a very dry, sarcastic tone, even when that didn't seem supported by the text. I may give this book another shot in print, but it seems that everyone recommends her short stories more highly.

    I think I also struggled with Moore's choices in the depiction of rural/urban Wisconsin. I have lived in Wisconsin most of my life, and Tassie's observations (and sometimes disdain) came off as a little tortured, sometimes.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    JoAnn Effort, PA, United States 11-10-13
    JoAnn Effort, PA, United States 11-10-13 Member Since 2008
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    45
    2
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "The Worse Book Ever"
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    Nothing


    What was most disappointing about Lorrie Moore’s story?

    It was totally unbelievable


    Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Mia Barron?

    Not sure I'd subject anyone to speaking this book


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    It wasn't too long, thank goodness. I kept listening hoping it would get better....I should have exchanged it.


    Any additional comments?

    No

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    A. Levkoff Phoenix, AZ USA 04-04-13
    A. Levkoff Phoenix, AZ USA 04-04-13
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    2
    1
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Logical Inconsistencies Abound"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Almost. Moore's writing can be beautiful, and is often very funny, but then she goes too far, and suddenly we are pulled out of the story to watch her being oh so clever. The story arc is more like one of those birds that takes so long to get off the ground you don't think it can actually fly. It was either a bunch of short stories strung together or a short story that took far too long to get interesting.

    As for the inconsistencies, I don't want to give anything away, so you'll have to trust me—they're in there.

    Tassie, the protagonist, sounds like a woman in her mid-forties trying to sound like a college junior; the voice did not ring true. But Moore's style of humor would not have otherwise been able to flourish, so that was a minor problem.


    How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

    I would not presume.


    Which character – as performed by Mia Barron – was your favorite?

    Sarah, without question.


    Who was the most memorable character of A Gate at the Stairs and why?

    Didn't I just answer that? The least interesting character is Tassie. Sarah is a tragic figure, but fascinating. I also thought Moore's description of Bonnie was heartbreaking.


    Any additional comments?

    I'm probably being too hard on the book. Mia Barron's reading made it much more enjoyable. Her performance was remarkable.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    J. Cameron Buffalo, NY United States 08-08-10
    J. Cameron Buffalo, NY United States 08-08-10 Member Since 2014

    offleash

    HELPFUL VOTES
    8
    ratings
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    14
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    "Even the flaws were interesting"

    This was a very satisfying audio book - I enjoyed the narration - she captured the main characters attitude. I agree with other reviewers that certain plot lines were implausible, but this did not diminish the wonderful character development and the terrific flights of fantasy. One of the best listens of this summer.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Davye Washington, DC, USA 06-15-10
    Davye Washington, DC, USA 06-15-10 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
    1
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    88
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    "Whining narrator"

    An otherwise very good book ruined by a whiny narrator. What a shame.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andrew ottawa, Ontario, Canada 04-12-10
    Andrew ottawa, Ontario, Canada 04-12-10
    HELPFUL VOTES
    12
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    "Novel writing as it should be"

    This novel is intimate and erudite, the meticulous outline of life in the crossroads of a mid-west college town, described by the coming-of-age narrator, Tassie.

    While there are many parts that are just beautiful - the descriptions of the countryside around her father's farm - and hilarious, there are parts that are just so well observed you want to kiss the writer, and parts that are so painful that it exposes better than any novel written since 9/11 the utter folly of sending our 18 year old children to the altar of war in order to ease the supply of oil. If you read one book this year make it this

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    02-02-10
    02-02-10 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
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    3
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    "Semi-Swept Away"

    From a listener stand point I was slightly disappointed with the ending because the character to me, never really peaked or grew. I wanted to hear more of her job and how that changed her but it never came. Too many side stories but I did appreciate the clever phrases and dialogue of the her boss. The narrator was definitely the voice of a college youngster but the boss lady was slightly too squeaky for me.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Karen Clarks Summit, PA, United States 10-23-09
    Karen Clarks Summit, PA, United States 10-23-09 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    6
    ratings
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    76
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    "Heartbreaking and Beautiful"

    Lorrie Moore is a master of the English language in this sorrowful tale of coming of age.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    iceflow Nunavut, Canada 06-01-10
    iceflow Nunavut, Canada 06-01-10 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
    79
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    91
    9
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    2
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    Overall
    "it seemed good at the start..."

    This book started off strong, because the writing is somewhat good. By which I mean its good prose, interesting metaphors. Although that voice doesn't really mesh with the main character who isn't very interesting or insightful about life. I had to force myself through the second half. It just got more dull and more depressing, and I was realizing there wasn't much point to so much of it. By the end it was a tedious chore...

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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