Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

This wonderful novel defies easy description.

It's less a narrative of plot or character than one of voice; unsurprising perhaps given Lorrie Moore's track record as a miniaturist.

And what a voice. Tassie Keltjin is a student in Troy, a liberal outpost within an imagined mid-western state where she grew up on a farm, daughter to an eccentric producer of boutique potato varieties and a Jewish mother.

Tassie speaks to us of formative experiences — first job, first love, first death — which took place in the twelve months following the late autumn of 2001. Sometimes we hear her using the sassy yet sophomore tones of the period, but more often her words are inflected with the wisdom of a middle-aged woman addressing us from a future yet beyond the time of contemporary readers. (And if the technique can be faulted, you might say that there are several occasions when Tassie's ostentatious wit appears to come to us directly from the author's mouth.)

Tassie's wordplay is put to great effect as she pokes fun gently at the attitudes of both progressives and regressives in her state, while all around topics perhaps less worthy of levity encroach on her young life: racism, 9-11 and its aftermath, insensitve bureaucracy and inconsiderate, ill-considered deception.

As well as being a very funny novel, Moore has cleverly crafted an extremely sad undercurrent within it, strikingly evident during the novel's most plot-like sections: the ludicrous-amusing story of Tassie's employers the Thornwood-Brinks and their belated quest for redemption through adoption.

Best read of the year so far.

No comments: