A Gate at the Stairs

A Gate at the Stairs

A Novel

Book - 2009
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Lyrical, devastatingly funny, wise, and beguiling,A Gate at the Stairsis Lorrie Moore's most ambitious book to date. The long-awaited new novel from one of the most heralded writers of the past thirty years,A Gate at the Stairsis a book of stunning power. Set just after the events of September 2001, it is a story about Tassie Keltjin, a twenty-year-old making her way in a new world and coming of age. Tassie is a "smile-less" girl from the plains of the mid-west. She has come to a university town, her brain on fire with Chaucer, Sylvia Plath, and Simone de Beauvoir. In between semesters, she takes a part-time job as a nanny for a family that seems mysterious and glamorous to her. Though her liking for children tends to dwindle into boredom, Tassie begins to care for, and protect, their newly adopted little girl as her own. As the year unfolds, she is drawn even deeper into the world of the child and her hovering parents, and her own life back home becomes alien to her. As life reveals itself dramatically and shockingly, Tassie finds herself forever changed -- less the person she once was, and more and more the stranger she feels herself to be. Under the novel's languid surface, Moore's deft and lyrical writing skillfully illustrates the heart of racism, the shock or war, and the carelessness perpetrated against others in the name of love. It is the novel for our time.
Publisher: [Toronto] : Bond Street Books, c2009.
ISBN: 9780385668248
Characteristics: 321 p. ;,22 cm.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Aug 01, 2012

Disappointing. A post 9/11 novel. A female student babysits an adopted child. The characters have empty lives. What was the point of writing about them?

kelleypoole May 14, 2012

Unless you are a fan of this author, I would not recommend. It is a very slow read with laborious coverage of physical details and character's thoughts. I was misled by the description, which covers about half of the book. The other half creeps along with little in the way of plot development. Not an author I will pursue any further.

BrigidScott Jan 17, 2012

A pleasant surprise!

Mar 18, 2011

This was so good and I knew from reading the author’s Birds of America (a great book of short stories) a few years ago that she could, as the old chestnut goes, make me laugh and make me cry. With this not that meaty novel, I found myself re-reading passages and laughing out loud and stopping and pausing and thinking about the words and how Lorrie Moore used them. This is the kind of writing that makes a writer wish/hope/dream they could have a fraction of the talent she has. This is a book to be slowly and thoughtfully read and I am not a slow or overly thoughtful reader. I love to get lost in a book and devour it at whichever pace finds me. With A Gate At The Stairs I took my time and you’ll be glad if you do the same.

The story concerns Tassie a young woman who has moved away from her parent’s kinda sorta hobby farm to go to University. Just before she finishes her first semester, she gets a job as a babysitter to a couple from town who are adopting a baby. That’s pretty much it but Moore explores race, class, religion, love, regret, and family (among other things) in such a 21st century way that it becomes so much more. Tassie, the bass playing, scooter-driving student could be such the cliche in a less capable writer’s hands but she veers from hilariously funny to achingly sad, sometimes in the span of a single paragraph.

Because the story isn’t super dense and plot-heavy, I am loathe to give away anything and would rather a reader discover the many wonderful and horrible things in this book but if anyone reads or has already read this, I’d love to talk about it. I guess now I’ll read a stack of comic books to cleanse the literary palate because prose will seem wooden and clunky and amateurish (insert insincere self deprecating comment here) compared to this great read. As you may have noticed, I love throwing around superlatives so that they become meaningless and trite, but I totally loved this book. It is sofa king good you have to get a copy and read it.

Feb 01, 2011

Ms. Moore seems more successful as a short story writer than novelist. This book seems like a disjointed series of (increasingly improbable) short stories strung together. The bi-racial adoption theme is only tepidly explored, the relationship with her brother is disjointed and the boyfriend scenario stretches credulity.

tourist2 Aug 20, 2010

Love her writing style but the story line lacks a good plot!

May 26, 2010

didn't read

Nov 15, 2009

Lorrie Moore puts good-hearted Tassie Keltjin, protagonist of "A Gate at the Stairs", through an improbable amount of complex heartache in a short period of time. Tassie leaves her quirky family's Midwestern organic farm to attend college in the fall of 2001. Only passing (and actually, rather refreshingly flippant) reference is made to what we all know happened that fall, but somehow it still manages to bring a sense of bewilderment and vague emotional paralysis coupled with yearning to all of Tassie's interactions in the ensuing months.

Gates and stairs, literal and figurative, do indeed show up regularly in this wry, haunting novel. The reader and Tassie realize perhaps too late that she has most longed to climb stairs and open gates where she wasn't wanted, needed or fully appreciated. After the fact, she questions with more insight and self-awareness whether or not she established any real connections with the people she encountered during that pivotal year, or just experienced some "random obviousness shared between strangers". Ironically, whether it was random or not, it wasn't obvious, at least not to the trusting and strangely optimistic Tassie. Also ironically, where it is clearly obvious that with a bit of communication on her part, she can save people she loves and who love her, she doesn't. In one case, tragedy is averted, but in another, it isn't.

Perhaps all this then sounds like a downer of a book featuring a frustrating and hapless heroine. Strangely but wonderfully, in Moore's skilful and compassionate rendering, it is not only *not* that, but surprisingly optimistic at the end. "A Gate at the Stairs" is engrossing and engaging throughout Tassie's journey to self-awareness, confidence and maturity.

Nov 10, 2009

Twenty-year-old Tassie Keltjin grew up on a small farm in Wisconsin. Her father is Christian and her mother is Jewish, but neither parent is religious. Her younger brother, Robert (named for their father) is struggling through high school. Tassie plays electric bass guitar and also has an acoustic stand-up bass she calls Ole Bob:

"I sometimes took to smacking the back of the bass for rhythm. My playing was full of wanderings that would return to fetch back the melody, or maybe only a handful of its notes, before venturing off again. I played a Bach cello prelude I had learned only the year before. It was sometimes fun to do this, make the bass play cello, like making an old man sing a young man's song. Ole Bob would complain and bellow but get through it in a slower, hobbling way, his occasional geezer spritelinesses a farewell embrace of lost youth. It moved me. I had never known my grandfathers, but if they had lived longer, I imagined them looking and sounding a lot like Bob. It was the family name, after all."

Tassie moves to a nearby city to attend college. Between semesters, she takes on a part-time job as a nanny for a caucasian couple who have adopted a Black child. Tassie becomes enmeshed in the family drama of her employers and very attached to their daughter, Mary-Emma. Tassie also falls in love for the first time; Reynaldo sits next to her in Intro to Sufism class.

Moore's writing is described as "lyrical, funny, moving, and devastating."

A Gate at the Stairs will appeal to adults and teens (Grade 10 and up) who like Anne Michaels, Margaret Atwood, Joan London, Fannie Flagg, Barbara Kinsolver and Muriel Spark.


Add a Quote
Nov 22, 2009

One night we got dressed in bag-lady clothes, got a shopping cart filled with beer, and went down by the railroad tracks just to howl like wolves. This was late-stage Sufism, mid to late.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at Library

To Top