A GATE AT THE STAIRS

I led this year’s book discussion at the Wisconsin Association of Public Librarians on a book that I thoroughly enjoyed:  Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs

The book is about a character named Tassie Keltjin who gets swept into the life of a restaurant owner named Sarah Brink.  Sarah has embarked on the adventure of adoption and she wants Tassie to be her nanny.  The focus of the book weaves back and forth between Tassie’s struggles as a student, a daughter and a nanny while relentlessly examining the decisions Sarah makes. 

Lorrie Moore is a Wisconsin writer and she is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.  Her reputation is built on her ability to write astounding short stories but this book proved that she is no slouch at writing a book length narrative that has many things to say about our society and how we function in it.

The group was a little less enthusiastic.  My take on their reaction is that they found the book a rich read which slowed down the pace.  They also struggled with characters that seemed quirky. 

One other thing about this book is that it is witty, clever and laugh out loud funny.  This confused some readers when that was balanced against the dramatic revelations at the end of the book which include death, terrorism and unrequited love. 

To experienced book discussion leaders this leads to only one thing:  a great book discussion.  Challenged by the text, the librarians could not stop talking about the book. 

Critic Vince Passaro may have summed Lorrie Moore up best when he said her stories have “that slightly skewed perspective that keeps you alert and a little uneasy.”  I think part of the success of the discussion was caused by these readers trying to right the ship of the characters in this novel.

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About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

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