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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

A Gate at the Stairs - Lorrie Moore This book conjured for me the worry that comes with being a parent dealing with the world of babysitters. Parents can take all sorts of safety measures to keep their children safe, such as installing a gate at the stairs for example. But one can’t anticipate all dangers, and there’s always a nagging fear of the unanticipated danger. The moment I first heard of the title of this book I wondered to myself, “Was there an accident?” The development of the story as described in this book includes various ominous signs of lurking danger, but the reader isn’t quite sure which ones are real. As it turns out, the gate at the stairs isn’t the biggest danger we need to worry about. And for those of you who are guessing that harm must have come to the child in the care of the babysitter, it's not what you're thinking.

The author appears to have bent over backwards to devise a plot in which she could include every possible statement she’s ever heard about issues of race in today’s American culture. If there is one permutation of words about race that’s not included in this book, I haven’t thought of it yet. Even my favorite quote, “Anyone who says they’re not a racist, is a racist,” was included. It may sound like I’m complaining, but actually not. The author did a good job of spreading these “race discussions” out over several sessions and sprinkling them with humor so that it can be bearable to the average reader.

However, the first part of the book was a bit of a drag for an old guy like me. Reading about a coed babysitter isn’t my idea of an interesting story. The story appears better in retrospect after it’s finished, but the experience of reading before reaching the end is oddly unsatisfying. So this is not a good book to leave unfinished.

The coed narrator of this story appears to expect sex on first dates. Somehow I don’t want to believe this to be typical for a Midwestern farm girl. The fling described in this story sounded a bit unreal to me. I think the author could have made this part of the story more believable by elaborating on the psychological neediness of the narrator for her to jump so quickly into this sort of relationship with a virtual unknown.

When the reader gets near the end and thinks that the story is over, it isn't. The story's narrator does something at a funeral that can only happen in a novel (in my opinion). Also, there's a message from the dead in a way that can only happen in the world of email. The very last sentence of the book indicates that she's learned to say no, which I consider to be positive.

The following short review of this book is from the PageADay Book Lover's Calendar for 6-13-2013:
Lorrie Moore is perhaps most well-known for her short stories, but after a 15-year hiatus, she returned to the novel form with this quietly powerful, widely acclaimed book. Moore looks at race, class, and love through the lens of 20-year-old Tassie, who takes a job as a part-time nanny as the novel opens. By the time it ends, she’ll be a different person, and far less innocent.
A GATE AT THE STAIRS, by Lorrie Moore (Vintage, 2009)