Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

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." See also my review of her outstanding short story collection, Birds of America.

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.

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