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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'The difference between opera and life, I'd noticed, was that in life one person plays all the parts'
`The cold came late that fall and the songbirds were caught off guard'.

The image at the start of her first novel for years is pure Lorrie Moore. She sets the scene, the birds have been `suckered' into staying too long. As our student narrator, Tassie, tours the neighbourhood in search of babysitting work she sees the birds everywhere until after a week or so...
Published on 1 Aug 2010 by Purpleheart

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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece at the level of the sentence, but...
In the early stages of this book I was overwhelmed with the sheer verve of the writing. It is crammed with astute, darkly funny, and often poignant micro-observations, and so it is easy to see what all the hype was about. However, I came away questioning its categorization as a novel. To me, it felt like the sum of its parts never quite added up to a whole. I felt it...
Published on 6 Feb 2011 by Melanie Garrett


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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'The difference between opera and life, I'd noticed, was that in life one person plays all the parts', 1 Aug 2010
By 
Purpleheart (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
`The cold came late that fall and the songbirds were caught off guard'.

The image at the start of her first novel for years is pure Lorrie Moore. She sets the scene, the birds have been `suckered' into staying too long. As our student narrator, Tassie, tours the neighbourhood in search of babysitting work she sees the birds everywhere until after a week or so they have disappeared - and she imagines them not migrating late but in some `killing corn field' outside town. The mix of the ordinary and the macabre is very Moore.

Lorrie Moore is one of my favourite writers. She is witty, her dialogue is superb, she observes with scary clarity. She writes about small town America and her narrators tend to be a little quirky as well linguistically able. Tassie has a laughable set of classes in Troy, the Athens of the mid West; Intro to Sufism, Soundtracks to War Movies and Wine Tasting. She is selected to be the baby-sitter of a mixed race baby who hasn't even been adopted yet. Moore can examine whole aspects of this family as well as her own through this device but the relationship between Tassie and Mary Emma is credible, moving, tender and heartbreaking, not some sociological tract.

Lorrie Moore is a known master of the short story form. This is her first substantial novel (321 pages compared to the slim volume of Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?) and it is flawed - it's as if by setting it post 9/11 Moore thought it would gain more gravitas. But, it's also funny, sad, enthralling and glorious.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece at the level of the sentence, but..., 6 Feb 2011
By 
Melanie Garrett (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
In the early stages of this book I was overwhelmed with the sheer verve of the writing. It is crammed with astute, darkly funny, and often poignant micro-observations, and so it is easy to see what all the hype was about. However, I came away questioning its categorization as a novel. To me, it felt like the sum of its parts never quite added up to a whole. I felt it increasingly hard to pick up and all too easy to skim through looking for signs of the few threads which held my interest. All in all, quite a disappointment, because I really *wanted* to love it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Trying too hard?, 6 Nov 2010
By 
T. SMEDLEY "terrysmedley" (Taunton UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
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I like to have a variety when it comes to what I read; a smattering of classics, contemporary fiction, horror, sf, comedy and even some chick-lit, so I always try to go into any book with an open mind. Nick Hornby, of all people, gives this author a glowing review on the cover of this, so I was perhaps expecting something more than what was ultimately delivered.

I agree with other reviewers here that not much really happens to our heroine, Tassie, things happen around her and to people close to her and all the while she maintains seemingly detached. The events that occur in this novel are predominantly sad, maybe the author is trying to make a statement about western life in this day and age, as we move with Tassie from one setting to another where life just seems to beat people down and crush their spirits.

There are a number of major issues covered in the course of the story; not least bereavement, the war in Afghanistan, terrorism, adoption, materialism and the disillusionment of the young in society. By trying to create a telling novel of our times, I can't help feeling that something important has been lost and trying to perk things up by having a `quirky' central character who views these things from a skewed viewpoint doesn't quite get there for me.

The author does inject some humour into the details, but often I nearly missed these and found I had to re-read paragraphs to fully appreciate this element. This was one of my biggest problems with this book; I frequently found my mind wandering off and knew I wasn't really paying full attention to the narrative, as whole passages of text were almost deliberately poetic and abstract, with a large amount of morbid imagery.

It wasn't all bad, there are moments of happiness and these are when the story best comes together, particularly when featuring Mary-Emma or Reynaldo and I can see what the author was trying to do with this novel, but the blurb on the back describes Tassie as a 'memorable narrator' and events in the story 'dramatic and shocking' but I found neither of these to be the case. I have to admit, I was relieved when I got 40 pages from the end and realised with one last push I could finish the book, which isn't a good thing!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyably melancholic, 15 Oct 2009
By 
P. Millar "dazzle" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
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When I first started to read this novel I was not overly impressed, it seemed to drag after only a few pages, then, one day, I sat down and read a good chunk of it in one sitting. I was immediately transported into the narrator's world - that of a girl moving from her rural home into college in the 'big city' - and fully immersed in the text. Lorrie Moore, for me, has a subtly natural way of writing, and what she writes about is life. There is no overall plot narrative here, the nearest it gets to a 'plot' is when the narrator becomes nanny to a couple adopting a mixed race baby, but chunks of life which flow seamlessly into one another. The narrative deals with death, terrorism, war, being young, getting old, adoption, race and racism (too name a few of the themes), and goes from hope to despair - with a hint of a smile - without missing a beat.

My advice to anyone wondering if to read this book or not is to give it a go, but sit down in a comfortable chair and allow yourself to be immersed in it, for me this is a novel for people who love reading.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'The difference between opera and life, I'd noticed, was that in life one person plays all the parts', 17 Mar 2010
By 
Purpleheart (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
`The cold came late that fall and the songbirds were caught off guard'.

The image at the start of her first novel for years is pure Lorrie Moore. She sets the scene, the birds have been `suckered' into staying too long. As our student narrator, Tassie, tours the neighbourhood in search of babysitting work she sees the birds everywhere until after a week or so they have disappeared - and she imagines them not migrating late but in some `killing corn field' outside town. The mix of the ordinary and the macabre is very Moore.

Lorrie Moore is one of my favourite writers. She is witty, her dialogue is superb, she observes with scary clarity. She writes about small town America and her narrators tend to be a little quirky as well linguistically able. Tassie has a laughable set of classes in Troy, the Athens of the mid West; Intro to Sufism, Soundtracks to War Movies and Wine Tasting. She is selected to be the baby-sitter of a mixed race baby who hasn't even been adopted yet. Moore can examine whole aspects of this family as well as her own through this device but the relationship between Tassie and Mary Emma is credible, moving, tender and heartbreaking, not some sociological tract.

Lorrie Moore is a known master of the short story form. This is her first substantial novel (321 pages compared to the slim volume of Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?) and it is flawed - it's as if by setting it post 9/11 Moore thought it would gain more gravitas. But, it's also funny, sad, enthralling and glorious.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good writing does not a novel make, 20 May 2010
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This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
I love Lorrie Moore's short stories but I found this novel hard going. On every page there is beautiful writing, sentences and snippets that ring in the memory. Tassie's character is beautifully drawn. There are experiences and incidents that promise much insight into the life of a young girl. But they never seem to draw together into a satisfying and meaningful whole novel. There's a lack of plot that made some sections feel really tedious, the beautiful writing often meanders and distracts as if to fill space. I finished the book more convinced than ever that the short story form is seriously under-rated and that Lorrie Moore is one of its greatest exponents.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pleasing moments, but too few, 17 Dec 2009
By 
F. R. Lewis "doublerose1" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
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I would have preferred this book with a little more considered editing. It's not that there aren't some lovely set pieces and the writing is certainly skilful, but that it grinds along slowly and carefully, and by the end of the first third, you find that you don't particularly care anymore about the central characters. Having said that, there are a couple of quotable lines of extreme insight: the episode where our 'heroine' expresses her loathing for her mother when she complains of having given up her life to raise her daughter, and how this entitles her to act selfishly for the rest of her life, thank you very much... it's wonderful and witty. So, for some small pinpricks of joy, read this book and savour it - just don't expect a thrilling ride.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Less is Moore, 29 Mar 2010
By 
Jonathan Posner (LONDON, England United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
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I confess with not a little pride that I was a Lorrie Moore 'early adopter', having bought her first collection of stories way back when. I liked them so much I went on to buy her second collection too.

Now we have a novel and I'm perplexed. This is heavy-going. Instead of a brisk, energising shower it's like the author has now decided to stretch out in a long hot bath and one, moreover, that stays hot indefinitely so there's no incentive to ever get out.

Of course (and as always) Lorrie Moore can craft exquisite sentences and turn an elegant phrase. But here these are devices in the service of a boring story that seems to go nowhere. It perks up, suddenly and dramatically (thrillingly even) around two hundred pages in before once again dissipating into luxurious language and aimless description. But that's just too little too late. What would I have given for some propulsion, fewer clever metaphors (there're simply far too many of them) and the omission of the Wednesday-night meet-ups: again too many of them for a story device that is as irritating as its intention is laudable.

Lorrie Moore is a splendid writer. So is Alice Munro. But whereas the latter has (to my knowledge) never written a novel, only stories, Lorrie Moore, conversely, has fatally decided to stray from the territory of which she is one of the supreme masters.

I removed the bath from my apartment when I had it refurbished. I'd advise Lorrie Moore to do the same; for when it comes down to it nothing, as we know, beats an invigorating shower.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, 23 Mar 2013
By 
M. Steel - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
A good book, beautifully written. Interestingly, and strangely, it is both ordinary and creepy. Lots of loose ends, like life
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I Loved It (With Reservations) - Enjoy the Writing and Wit, but Perhaps Question the Plot, 9 Aug 2011
By 
A. Benmakhlouf "Adam" (U.K.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
This review reveals elements of the plot.

Soaplike progression of a plot which involves an unconfessed terrorist, the unmasking of fake identities, a misguided little brother who joins the army, and an educated mother passively enduring an unsophisticated bucolic lifestyle. But it is Moore' singular skill that puts these otherwise apparently impossible deformities into a more convincing and attractive perspective.
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A Gate at the Stairs
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore (Paperback - 22 April 2010)
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