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Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore, 2009, * * * *

Set just after the events of September 2001, the novel deals with anxiety and disconnection of a post-9/11 America, and focuses on the insidiousness of racism, the blind-sidedness of war, and the recklessness thrust on others in the name of love. Tassie Keltjin, 20, a smalltown girl weathering a clumsy college year in 'the Athens of the Midwest,' is taken on as prospective nanny by brittle Sarah Brink, the proprietor of a pricey restaurant who is desperate to adopt a baby despite her dodgy past. The novel is full of mordant humor in shades of gray to charcoal, a quirky, self-deprecating heroine who notices both too much and not enough about the people in her life, depictions of contemporary American mores and fripperies, and finally, a double examination of the fragility of love's intent. As the year unfolds Tassie's 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. Moore's graceful prose considers serious emotional and political issues with low-key clarity and poignancy.

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