Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Gate at the Stairs - Lorrie Moore

In general, I'd say I do like books that are about people living their every day lives - where nothing in particular happens, but where learning about the characters and walking in their shoes is just kind of the point of the whole exercise. Moore's A Gate at the Stairs has received many excellent reviews - and I've seen it all over Best of 2009 lists, and had to wait quite awhile for it at the library - always s sign of commercial success. I knew it was about life in a post-9/11 world, but other than that really did not know what to expect. The story is told from the perspective of 20-year old Tassie - who is meandering aimlessly through life, going to school without much ambition. She takes a job as the nanny to a working mom and all-but-completely absent father - to take care of their newly adopted child. Issues of race come in to play as the couple is white, and their daughter is black - and the mother attempts to surround herself with other people of color, engaging in politicized and often ridiculous-with-a-kernel-of-truth debates about the state of race relations in the United States today. Tassie, meanwhile, visits her parents (former potatos farmers), falls in love with a rarely seen by the reader man, and creates a tremendous bond with the child she cares for. Along the way, it is clear that Tassie marches to the beat of a different drummer - and the way she sees the world, her humor, and her assessment of often awkward situations, I found spot on and hilarious. But, given the subject matter of the book, also often inappropriate. In this way, I suppose, Moore does capture the reality of every day life - that we all live among this madness, attempting to find meaning - whether it is through romantic relationships, our work, or in having children, but in the end kind of just finding ourselves where we started - still confused and not quite happy. I'm actually surprised that this book is so popular - it seemed completely random to me in terms of plot diversions and characters, and ultimately the relationship between the couple and the adopted child is so heartbreaking for the reader, but almost as if unfelt by the characters themselves. Again, perhaps this is the detachment that is symbolized by 9/11 itself, the numbness that crept into the lives of so many - and the need to find meaning, as Tassie struggles to do, in the face of so much absurdity.

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