Customer Reviews for

A Gate at the Stairs

Average Rating 3
( 163 )
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(26)

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(44)

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

This is a terrific character study of a a young woman just after 9/11 trying to make sense of a world that seems out of control

In the Midwest in September 2001, twenty years old Tassie Keltjin, daughter of a gentleman potato farmer, is at college looking forward to the greats of literature. In between her semesters, she takes a position as a nanny to restaurateur Sarah Brink, who has no childr...
In the Midwest in September 2001, twenty years old Tassie Keltjin, daughter of a gentleman potato farmer, is at college looking forward to the greats of literature. In between her semesters, she takes a position as a nanny to restaurateur Sarah Brink, who has no children yet but is considering adoption.

Sarah begins her search for a suitable pregnant woman who does not want to raise a child or have an abortion. She has a choice between a girl without a brain or a white female whose African-American boyfriend dumped her when she mentioned the "P" word. Meanwhile Tassie receives an education on social class and race relationships while finding a lover Reynaldo, who conceals from her elements of his life.

This is a terrific character study of a a young woman just after 9/11 trying to make sense of a world that seems out of control from her relative understanding. Tassie makes the story line as the center holding it together with her wonderful mix of gentle naivety and Midwestern potato wisdom. Fans will enjoy her escapades with 9/11 in the backdrop as Lorrie Moore explores the issues that split society through her intelligent yet bewildered protagonist coming of age.

Harriet Klausner

posted by harstan on August 12, 2009

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Most Helpful Critical Review

8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

Moore's Novel Lacks Her Short Fiction's Appeal

I've read serveral of Lorrie Moore's insightful, witty stories--mostly in The New Yorker magazine--and she's an excellent short fiction writer. But her novel, "A Gate at the Stairs," is weak. (That's not so unusual. Many short story writers can't write a decent novel...
I've read serveral of Lorrie Moore's insightful, witty stories--mostly in The New Yorker magazine--and she's an excellent short fiction writer. But her novel, "A Gate at the Stairs," is weak. (That's not so unusual. Many short story writers can't write a decent novel--Alice Munro, for one.) The characters and the plot in "A Gate at the Stairs" start out being intersting, but that interest peters out as the novel plods along. By far the most intriguing character, a sassy, toothless, and pregnant delinquent named Amber, shows up early in the book--and then is never seen again! What a shame. Moore should have written the novel about Amber. By the time I got to the last quarter of the book, I was skimming--never a good sign.

posted by JerryRome on October 26, 2009

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  • Posted October 26, 2009

    Moore's Novel Lacks Her Short Fiction's Appeal

    I've read serveral of Lorrie Moore's insightful, witty stories--mostly in The New Yorker magazine--and she's an excellent short fiction writer. But her novel, "A Gate at the Stairs," is weak. (That's not so unusual. Many short story writers can't write a decent novel--Alice Munro, for one.) The characters and the plot in "A Gate at the Stairs" start out being intersting, but that interest peters out as the novel plods along. By far the most intriguing character, a sassy, toothless, and pregnant delinquent named Amber, shows up early in the book--and then is never seen again! What a shame. Moore should have written the novel about Amber. By the time I got to the last quarter of the book, I was skimming--never a good sign.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2010

    An Odd Coming of Age Story

    My problem with "A Gate at the Stairs" lies mainly with the language that the author employs to describe the scenes and characters of the book. The language is often flowery, the similes and metaphors a little too much for this style of book.

    The strength of the book comes from the relationships, especially between Tassie and Sarah, and Tassie and Mary-Emma; but there again there are weaknesses. The strange turnaround of Tassie's mysterious boyfriend is odd and seems to come out of left-field. We understand there is more to him than meets the eye, but what happens doesn't seem to fit with the personality that we saw before. Tassie's relationship with her brother is also strange; they seem not at all close, but when making a very important decision, the brother turns to her for advice, which she doesn't even acknowledge.

    The book is entertaining, and in the end, heartbreaking, and I enjoyed reading it, but when I finished I was left with more questions, and criticisms than I started with. We definitely see Tassie come of age, but the events of the book seem almost overwhelming to someone of her age. The many tragedies and critical events that occur seem too much for the span of less-than-two years that the novel covers.

    Book clubs may enjoy this book, because there are definitely multiple subjects and current hot topics to keep people talking; look especially to the conversations that occur in Sarah's racial-discussion meetings. The comments are interesting, and the fact that we usually don't know who says what makes them that more interesting.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Compelling, but needs deep editing

    I read this book in a day - it is definitely a page-turner. Ms. Moore has a powerful voice and a vivid way of depicting people, places, and feelings. I think this book would have been *great* if the story had been pared down ruthlessly. There is too much of most of the good things (colloquial quirks, dialogue, and the like). There is also too much going on - too many story lines. Also, some things are over-illustrated, like the snippets of politico-social Wednesday evening conversations or the pedantry of the narrator, which I found annoyingly repetitive.

    I got the sense that the book was written a few chapters beyond the end of the story, which made me question the story itself. Was it about interracial adoption or was it more like "the diary of 6 weird months in the life of a very insecure college woman"?

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 23, 2009

    Almost a total waste of time

    This book seems like the amalgam of four or five badly-edited short stories. Tassie does not speak, think, or act like a midwestern college kid raised on a farm. She knows an encyclopedia of cultural trivia that no 20-year old on planet Earth could know intimately or critically. Her inner life is a blend of a young girl's physical lofe and a 50-year-old's memories. Dialogue is very well written and the author has a lot of clever "riffs" that are engaging to read, but the plot contains unbelievable acts and outcomes (or non-outcomes). If Moore's intent is to make the novel itself stand as a metaphor of the confusion and disconnectedness of the recent nine years, she failed in my view.

    One final note, I think her editor was unable or unwilling to push back. Moore, like Philip Roth, seems now too renowned a writer to be carefully edited by her publisher.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 8, 2009

    Overwrought and overwritten.

    Although Tassie is an interesting protagonist, and the plot has interesting twists, the book is overwritten. Pages and pages of description do little to further Tassie's character. Pages and pages of

    SPOILER

    dialog fulminating against racism, although cleverly written, with a good ear, needed to be edited down. Overall, not a total waste, but a real disappointment.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2010

    boring and over staged

    just can't get to like this book - and first time ever that no one in my bookclub finished the book. Usually we read all books no matter if we like them or not and usually someone will like the book. This was just plain waste of paper

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This is a terrific character study of a a young woman just after 9/11 trying to make sense of a world that seems out of control

    In the Midwest in September 2001, twenty years old Tassie Keltjin, daughter of a gentleman potato farmer, is at college looking forward to the greats of literature. In between her semesters, she takes a position as a nanny to restaurateur Sarah Brink, who has no children yet but is considering adoption.

    Sarah begins her search for a suitable pregnant woman who does not want to raise a child or have an abortion. She has a choice between a girl without a brain or a white female whose African-American boyfriend dumped her when she mentioned the "P" word. Meanwhile Tassie receives an education on social class and race relationships while finding a lover Reynaldo, who conceals from her elements of his life.

    This is a terrific character study of a a young woman just after 9/11 trying to make sense of a world that seems out of control from her relative understanding. Tassie makes the story line as the center holding it together with her wonderful mix of gentle naivety and Midwestern potato wisdom. Fans will enjoy her escapades with 9/11 in the backdrop as Lorrie Moore explores the issues that split society through her intelligent yet bewildered protagonist coming of age.

    Harriet Klausner

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2011

    Absolutely NOT recommended!!!!!

    What a collossal waste of time and money. It was so awful, I wouldn't even recycle it, for fear that someone might find it and attempt to read it. I couldn't be that cruel.
    Though the novel had the promise of a decent plot, it became bogged down with endless, nonsensical descriptions. This included an entire alliterative page of items beginning with "p."
    Spoiler alert!! I wish she had stayed in the casket with her poor brother.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 5, 2011

    Sadly Disappointed :(

    I bought this book after I read a raving review in a magazine's book recommendation section. I thought I would connect with Tassie's character, because I too am a college girl from the Midwest, who is a nanny. However, I found the book to be unrealistic and it contained too many plot lines that were forced together, many of which were left hanging. I had to force myself to finish the book, which ultimately left me sadly disappointed and I wished I had spent my money elsewhere.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 4, 2010

    Disappointing

    I might be the only person out there who didn't like this novel. Or maybe not.

    There is too much going on - with both Moore's use of language and plot. Sometimes she'll utilize more than one simile to describe an object; it's as if she couldn't make up her mind which was better. Mosquitoes are compared with irises, "unbarbered boys," orchids, and "a gnome's sleigh." All in one sentence. Other lines just made me roll my eyes, like, "She would have to make do in this landlocked lake of love." And, please, enough with the wordplay. Moore is notorious for this, but in this novel it began to grow tiresome. The plot, too, wearied me, specifically all the losses Tassie sustains near the end. What real purpose does Reynaldo serve, for example? Must we have him up and disappear, quite probably part of a terrorist cell, the adopted child taken away, and Tassie's brother killed? All this and a discussion regarding race and racism and war? I would have liked to see Moore settle on one story.

    Some of the most enjoyable pages for me concerned the group Tassie's employer gets together to discuss racism. Moore utilizes dialogue without acknowledging who says what. Very Barthelme.

    Other than that, ho hum. And I so liked Anagrams...

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 28, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    I can't decide if its cynical or boring, but still

    I like the book in the long run.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A True Coming of Age Novel

    There has been much acclaim and chatter about Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs: it made the NYT Top 10 List of 2009, and all of my librarian friends rave about it. From the reviews, I'd been expecting something like Ann Patchett/Anne Tyler: meandering, lyrical, adult. And yes, Lorrie Moore's writing is all of these things. But she has captured something that has become scarce in a market oversaturated with teen vampire novels - a true coming of age story.

    Tassie Keltjin leaves her small farm town for college in the city, rising up into one new epiphany after another. She is smart, kind, and introspective, but mainly, she is an empath: her ability to love and feel for the people around her magnifies their lives and emotions, making them more complex and lovable than their experiences alone. When Tassie becomes a nanny, she is pulled into a dramatic and heartbreaking net of secrets and loss - both the family's and her own - and her empathy once again makes the entire situation both more and less bearable.

    Though at times this book seems to focus on too many people's emotions, as a coming of age novel, it's perfect: micro-focused in short bursts on the person most in need at the time, creating an overall picture of what matters Tassie's life. The haunting moments are subtle and sneaky, but they are there, and they are unforgettable.

    In the end, Tassie is transformed, aware, broken-hearted - as will be anyone who reads this novel.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2010

    horrible book

    this was the worst book ever. I have read books that I didn't enjoy before but this book was so bad I had to write this review. The characters lacked depth, Ms. Moore used way too many words to get her point across and the whole story was unrealistically depressing. What was she thinking and why did I finish this book?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 9, 2010

    couldn't even finish the book

    I read over 3/4 of the book - there were moments that I liked, but I had to force myself to keep reading. Finally I gave up. Didn't like the characters. Didn't think they were interesting.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Thought provoking, touching and timeless reflection on a very specific time.

    I chose this when I read a review in The Buffalo News and read two thirds of this today feeling like I couldn't stop until I got the the end. The free form flow of the narrative draws the reader in and makes the main character seem so familiar. The first person storytelling feels immediate and allows the reader to get wrapped up into the confusion she feels as a young adult coming of age in the midst of the complicated adult lives around her.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2013

    Mixed feelings about this book.

    The author writes beautifully and describes the fauna and flora in vivid details so that I could see the Wisconsin farmland, the home of the protege. The story is a coming of age of a child of a gentleman farmer and his wife who is attending college in the "big city" of Troy, WI. She accepts a job as a babysitter for a couple from the east coast who are in the process of adopting a biracial child. As the story unfolds, the author suddenly sends two zingers - twists that are completely unexpected, and in doing so, took away some of my enjoyment in the book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2012

    Tedious

    Language, like never-ending riffs on a guitar- scratching at every nerve-ending.

    Soliloquies on race, packaged as Wednesday night consciousness meetings.

    Jihadists hiding in homogenized midwest conducting affairs with benign farm girls.

    This book is much longer than it needs to be. I've never been a fan of the short story and less so now.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2012

    Wish I had read the reviews before I started the book. Bought i

    Wish I had read the reviews before I started the book. Bought it on the whim, have struggled through 3/4 and am finally giving up. Plot line leaves a lot to be desired, as does character development. Wish I hadn't wasted the time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2012

    Skimmed the last 20 pages

    I had such high hopes for this book, but was disappointed in the end. The tragedies were tragic, but i really did not feel connected to the main character who seemed so bland but yet had such overly rich internal dialogue. There were so many loose ends that left undone did nothing other than leave me irritated for wasting my time on this book. It had potential, but it got bogged down in flowery metaphors and descriptions. I never skim pages, but i did on this one .

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2011

    Laborious

    This author doesn't stop at one lengthy description of her hometown, the farm, her apartment, etc. She gives at least three descriptions and 2 analogies every time! Thus, the story moves slowly. This story is mostly in her head and I longed for more dialogue - when the story actually progressed. I could hardly finish it.

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