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A Gate at the Stairs - Book of the Month

by Lorrie Moore

This brilliant new novel by Lorrie Moore has several quotable lines to every page. The viewpoint of Tassie, the twenty year old narrator, a mixture of smart, witty, acuity and painfully self-conscious ingénue, puts a fresh and often extremely funny, slant on her American mid-western world.

Tassie is the daughter of a potato farmer. At least, he’s a potato farmer derided by the rest of the agricultural fraternity for being a hobbyist growing unusual varieties of potatoes which he sells to smart restaurants. Her mother “sleeps too late for a farmer’s wife” and puts mirrors behind her flower beds to make them look bigger. In Tassie’s words, she is “a woman so frugal and clueless that she had once given me – to have! to know! to wear! – her stretch black lace underwear that had shrunk in the dryer, though I was only ten.”

Having escaped small-town Dellacrosse to go to university, Tassie then finds she has to negotiate the sophistications of midde-class Troy when she gets a job as child-minder for the adopted daughter of a restaurateur. It is the winter of 2001, America is hurtling unstoppably towards war, and Tassie soon finds herself out of depth with her employers as well as in her love life, realising that nothing and no one are as they seem.

A GATE AT THE STAIRS is a coming of age story, with its foreshortened perspective and limited parameters, yet it is also a tragicomedy that encapsulates post-9/11 America. It is on the short list for the Orange Prize and we wish Lorrie Moore the very best of luck.

Clare Chandler

Read our interview with Lorrie Moore.

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