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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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16 of 17 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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2.0 out of 5 stars What's the fuss, 21 Jun. 2010
By 
R. A. Mansfield "bertieronbob" (Brighton) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
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I started reading this book long before it was nominated for (and won, I believe) various prizes, so wasn't swayed by its fame, as it were.

I have also since read that Lorrie Moore is feted by literary types as being the voice of America and wonderful.

Well, I for one won't be rushing out to buy another one of her books after this. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get into A Gate At The Stairs.

I didn't find Tassie at all engaging as a character and the story seemed to take far too long to get going.

Lorrie Moore writes very beautifully, but beautiful writing isn't often enough to make for a compelling read.

Maybe I'm not the target market - white, middle-class male - but that shouldn't exclude me from enjoying novels about different protagonists. However, in this case, I felt excluded.

Sorry, Lorrie, I'm sure you are a great writer, but on this evidence I clearly won't find out how good.
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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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8 of 10 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
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This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
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`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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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes lost its way, 2 May 2010
By 
Pen pal "Topaz" (Kent, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
If you are looking for a fast paced novel with lots of action then this book is not for you. If, however, you are looking for a book where you are a fly-on-the-wall in the dramas and minutiae of everyday life then this may well please. There are some beautiful descriptions although sometimes these could go on for too long and become too involved and cease to serve any real purpose to the story in hand. That said, there are some wonderful glimpses where one does become more involved in the story with Emmie. Also Tassie's relationship with her brother, without giving anything away, was extremely well portrayed at the end of the book. On the whole there were moments when the book picked up speed and then there were moments where it just lost itself completely. Lorrie Moore would go off on some descriptive rambling that served no real value other than as an exercise in rather lovely descriptive writing. Somewhat superfluous though. I feel that it was probably a 3 and a half star more than a 3 star. In places is could be 4 star and in other places 3 star if this makes sense.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little less conversation..., 1 Aug. 2011
This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
Being an admirer of Moore's short stories, I wanted and expected to love this book. Halfway through, I was reminded of Dorothy Parker's review, ""This is not a book to be cast aside lightly. It should be hurled with great force." It's a sorry case of words getting in the way of a good story. It's as though Moore is so in love with her own verbal brilliance, she sacrifices plot, pace and even character in the service of her interminable descriptions. The dialogue is unlikely, the narrative is self-conscious and isn't remotely humorous, and certain sections- the wednesday night meetings that are supposed to challenge racism but- no! - reveal the participants to be trapped in their own racist world view regardless of colour.. or the teeth-grindingly dull longeurs towards the end, when the narrator returns home to the farm- are almost unreadable. As a series of vignettes, or a flashy selection box of writing exercises, it's great. Moore can write, no question. What she can't do, on this very disappointing evidence, is write an engaging novel.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No surprises, 3 Oct. 2009
By 
Mrs. K. A. Wheatley "katywheatley" (Leicester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
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I realise that Lorrie Moore is being touted as one of the most talented new writers in America and that all her books have received triumphant critical acclaim. I picked this because of that and because of the quote by Nick Hornby on the cover, which claims she is 'The best American writer of her generation.' I discovered Anne Tyler through Hornby and was intrigued by his claim, because I love Tyler.

Unfortunately I couldn't help comparing her to Tyler and finding her wanting. Both look at the lives of middle class Americans (or at least in this book) and the dilemmas they face in their jobs, homes and family lives. Both have an eye for the minutiaie of day to day living which brings their work alive and gives a sense of realism, all of which I love, but for me Moore doesn't really go much further than this, where Tyler leads me gently by the hand through a domestic situation until I realise that I am actually on the precipice of a life changing event and that this transformation from domestic to dramatic has been so quietly and skilfully done that it is breath taking. Moore, for me, does not have that. She does have rawness and tragedy but it is clunkily handled and somehow expected.

All throughout this book, about a young college girl who moves away from her provincial, stifling farm life and family to the city where she is forced to shake off the faux veneer of sophistication she has borrowed and grow up when faced with a series of shocking events I kept waiting for the worst and getting it. I felt like the reader was always being telegraphed about the bad times coming and it made it harder for me to enjoy the moments of joy and humour and domesticity in the rest of the book. Maybe if I hadn't believed the hype I'd have been less disappointed, as it is a perfectly competent novel. It just isn't perfect and that was what, perhaps unfairly, I was expecting.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Less is Moore, 28 April 2010
By 
Jonathan Posner (LONDON, England United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
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 just irritating, however laudable its intention.

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 as we know when it comes down to it nothing beats an invigorating shower.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Born Slippy, 28 Jan. 2011
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This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
I can't remember having loved and admired a modern novel as much as I did A Gate at the Stairs in years. It fizzes with linguistic brio and glows with observational detail. Clearly one of its main concerns is meaning (of life and of language) and in the early stages there's an almost adolescent delight in punning; later on, the mutability of language becomes a tragic cacophony of baffling acronyms. The social comedy is deft and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny: I found myself thinking that it was as if Jane Austen had been brought back to the American mid-West in the early part of the 21st century, with the shadow of 9/11 a rebuke to those critics who dismiss Austen for not writing about the Napoleonic wars. (Moore, it must be said, invokes Charlotte Bronte rather than Austen, however.)

This is a distinctly un-American novel, too, I think. If words and meaning have a habit of shifting, then so, too, do people and events; and if the `Great American Novel' is about fulfilling your personal destiny, about becoming whoever you wish to become, then A Gate at the Stairs suggests there are too many uncertainties for us often to know ourselves. The gate at one set of stairs is there supposedly to guard a baby who has multiple identities (birth, race, gender) at least three different names and four competing `mothers'.

The novel is not perfect: the Wednesday meetings lost their edge and became quickly repetitive (but perhaps that's the point). However, the quality of writing is extraordinary, the imagery soars and Tassie, the narrator, has a winning voice and a compelling story to tell. Absolutely brilliant.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and agonising, 6 July 2010
This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
I absolutely loved this book and found it both beautiful, atmospheric and painful. Her style is, at times, almost that of a poet and I often found myself having to read sentences more than once to contemplate her unusual metaphors and style of expressing things. Her choice of adjectives often seemed jarring and discordant but on closer inspection made perfect sense. I didn't find the book at all dull or the plot slow running. Quite the opposite in fact, I got to the point where I couldn't wait for my working day to end so I could resume reading it. I found that the plot flowed freely and the conclusions satisfied me. The lack of tying up some of the narrative worked well for me and the unsaid and unresolved made the novel more interesting. Her choice of themes were also well expressed and were cohesive and congruent throughout the novel. Brilliant book. I'd recommend it to anyone.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clever, but sometimes too clever, 30 Jan. 2010
By 
Princess Mononoke (Lancs, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: A Gate at the Stairs (Paperback)
I had mixed feelings about this book - whilst some of the writing was witty, some was just down right ridiculous. There was no real story to write about and the central character, Tassie, was at times incredibly juvenile and irritating; her thoughts branch off at weird tangents which I'm sure were intended to be incredibly funny but somehow failed to hit the mark. Perhaps as one reviewer said, the book is "too American" and many of the jokes were lost on me.

For me, the plot centred squarely on Edward and Sarah and their adoption plans - it is to them that things happen, yet their characters were one dimensional and their story was never really fully told. Once Tassie leaves their employ and returns home for the holidays her story becomes so far fetched that it was a struggle to finish the book.

I had such high hopes for this, but it really failed to deliver. As a short story I think it would have had much more impact, but as it was, it was not so much a story as a random sequence of events.
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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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