A Gate at the Stairs

Lorrie Moore

One of the pleasures of reading a writer like the CN&R’s own Anthony Peyton Porter [see “From the Edge,”] is his talent for constantly betraying the reader’s expectations by coming up with an unanticipated word, or phrase, or idea. Lorrie Moore exhibits that same penchant for originality in just about every line she writes, hitting notes we’re not quite prepared to hear, but that seem just right once she’s hit them. Novels like A Gate at the Stairs are all too rare in that regard, yielding the pleasure of an original voice in every line, always finding just the right detail to anchor a scene, to set a mood, or to flesh out a character. A Gate at the Stairs is narrated by a college girl who finds work as a nanny; she is a character as emblematic of her time as Holden Caulfield was of his. She’s also good company, a probing consciousness with lots of quirky insights to share with readers who follow her journey. When Moore’s first short story collection—Self Help—was published in 1983, those who read it knew they were in the presence of a notable talent. With A Gate at the Stairs, the promise of those early stories is fully realized.