A Gate at the Stairs

Lorrie Moore considers the bonds of family and the intricacies of human relationships in her novel A Gate at the Stairs.

A Gate at the Stairs starts out as a touching, fresh take on family, rife with Lorrie Moore’s gift for making the mundane fascinating. Tassie is a college senior in the Midwest who, out of desperation, takes a job as a nanny for a couple adopting a biracial child. As Tassie accompanies the parents through the process of creating their new family, we’re given shockingly honest insight into the intricacies of human relationships and the realities of the business of adoption. The experience forces the family to confront issues of race, not only in adoption but also in society. Yet despite the heavy subject matter, Moore keeps us laughing. Her sharp observations and biting humor move the story along at a rapid clip, and she manages to accurately portray the voice of a college student, which is a rare feat for writers of any age. Her other characters, all quirky and relatable, are wonderfully painted as well. But about halfway through, Moore seems to grow tired of her plot. The story loses focus, unraveling into a series of pointless vignettes, and she succumbs to cheap twists that fail to liven things up. And while her commentary on race, gender, and politics is subtle and brilliant in the beginning, she starts to bombard the reader with it by the end. If only this had stayed on track and skipped the paperback-mystery flair, it would have been a charming, worthwhile tale.