A Gate at the Stairs: Lorrie Moore

| 4 May , 2010 | Reply

Jane de Graaff, I Ate It All

I\’m going to come right out and say it- essentially this book made me sad. Sad for all the ways that humans can hurt one another, whether we mean to or not. But it\’s not a sadness that drives you away, rather it\’s a realisation that sadness is a part of life and one that helps us understand each other in all our complexities.

This book made me sad- but I could not put it down.

Lies, war, infidelity, selfishness, self-righteousness- all are explored through different characters in ‘A Gate at the Stairs\’ and all are profoundly necessary to the story as it unfolds.

The narrative is seen through the eyes of Tassie Keltjin. Young and off to university in a town just far enough away from home. Initially I didn\’t really warm to her. She looked at things either too closely or not closely enough- noticing details that seemed irrelevant and not questioning other things that stood out as odd. And it frustrated me that we did not look at the world in quite the same way.
But soon enough I was drawn into her complex and ongoing struggle to understand the people around her and just how and why we treat each other the way we do.

In Tassie, Lorrie Moore gives us a protagonist who looks at the world and notes the cracks and flaws in all their baldness, but who does not necessarily see them as ugly.

She has a voice that notices all the vulgar little details, but not in a way that discounts or disparages them. It\’s an interesting voice and one that crept into my consciousness until I found myself looking at the world, seeing the world in all its interesting and hideous detail.

As Tassie learns that people don\’t always say what they mean, we follow her and begin to second-guess everything we see and hear around us. Via her introduction to university, her first real love and finally through her babysitting regime with the fractured Sarah Brink, Tassie sees that humans are more complex than we could ever hope to imagine.

She becomes so close to Sarah and her family (as they quest to adopt a baby) that she ends up sharing more of their secrets that she could ever possibly have wanted to. And yet, at the same time Tassie is held at arms length, suddenly shunted back into her role of babysitter and nothing more.

These characters are brittle, presented in sharp relief and set against a humdrum university town backdrop. It\’s a combination that, through the course of the book, renders them very, very real.

So real, that the final outcome is heartbreaking and yet liberating in equal parts.

If you\’re looking for a reminder of the complexities of just being human- this is a book that will thoroughly absorb you.

And maybe, just maybe, you\’ll see life in a little more detail along the way.

Available now:  Allen & Unwin RRP$32.99

Jane

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