A Gate at the Stairs – Lorrie Moore: There has been so much buzz about this book that there’s hardly anything left to write about it. Everything I’d say has already been phrased perfectly and published.
Here’s Jonathan Lethem doing the gushing that I don’t have to do anymore, plus it’s totally legitimate because he’s all “published novelist” and “New York Times reviewer” and I’m just some half-hearted quasi-blogger who’s only published a handful of stories and essays in magazines hardly anyone will read. Thanks, Jon: …Moore may be, exactly, the most irresistible contemporary American writer: brainy, humane, unpretentious and warm; seemingly effortlessly lyrical; Lily-Tomlin-funny.
Or here’s Lisa Moore elaborating on how well Lorrie Moore does that funny-sad thing I love so much (Bonus: one of my favourite writers discussing another favourite writer! And they have the same last name!): Language in Moore’s stories and novels is reversible, like those clever garments that can be worn inside out, or outside in; she shows that language can point at itself and at the same time expose – always unsentimentally – human pain and hope, vulnerability and strength, what’s funny, and what’s not funny and how everything, eventually, is both.
Getting down to the details of the book itself, it’s about a 20 year old girl, Tassie, who starts nannying the newly adopted mixed-race baby of a married couple in her college town. Along the way she meets her boyfriend in her Intro to Suffism class, watches as her brother graduates high school and enlists in the army, and plays her bass. In one of the more perfect details, Tassie talks about how she’s figured out how to play Sleater Kinney songs on her bass. “Huh,” I thought when I read it. “Funny!” But, Carrie Brownstein’s reaction was even better: Reading my own band name within the book’s pages was like having a movie character turn toward you, say your name and confer with you on the plot. It was a personalized fortune cookie. It was having a park named after you without first having to die.
And here’s Lorrie Moore herself on why she decided to use Tassie as the filter for this story: Here’s the thing about being 20 years old. It’s actually the universal age of passion. It’s the age at which nature and form come together and your individual passion achieves its final shape and expression. When, later in life, when you’re older, you feel furious, it’s the fury of a 20-year-old. When you fall in love, it’s the love of a 20-year-old. It’s articulate, it’s visceral, it’s platonic. It’s the pure form of the emotion. When you observe the hypocrisies and injustices of the world, and feel shocked and betrayed by them, you’re actually being 20 again. And yet, you’re just shy of being able to drink. How perfectly completed, and thwarted, at the same time.
I didn’t expect the novel to go the way it did, and I didn’t expect to feel so gutted by it. I admittedly felt a bit emotionally manipulated (here’s a blog entry that has some criticisms I agree with) but the writing was so good and Tassie was such a great character – nerdy and earnest, trying so hard to do the right thing, but still fucking up the way 20 year olds do – the perfect kind of heartbreaking.
My favourite thing I’ve read this year.