A Gate at the Stairs
by Lorrie Moore
Knopf, September 2009
I love Lorrie Moore; Birds of America remains my favorite short story collection ever, and the story “People Like That Are The Only People Here” is one of my all-time favorite short stories, if not my favorite short story.
So, I’ve been looking forward to reading A Gate at the Stairs since its fall publication, when it was described in BookPage as “solidly and delightfully Lorrie Moore territory; there’s the isolated, intelligent female narrator who both hides and survives through her humor and nonchalance; the Midwestern landscape that stretches with ennui and possibility; the pithy wordplay that is as haunting as it is lighthearted.” The story is about Tassie, a 20-year-old girl who takes a job as a babysitter during winter vacation. Sarah, the woman who hires her, takes an immediate liking to Tassie and—oddly—asks her to “be there with us for everything, from the very first day.” The excerpted passage is from Tassie’s first outing with Sarah, who is adopting. They go to meet the birth mother (Amber) and adoption agency counselor (Letitia).
If you’ve never read Lorrie Moore before, or A Gate at the Stairs is on your TBR list, I encourage you to check out this novel—either now or in September, when the paperback comes out. Moore has a knack for describing bizarre situations that still feel instantly recognizable, and she’s hilarious, to boot.
Things moved with swiftness and awkwardness both, like something simultaneously strong and broken. We hung up coats; we ordered; we ate; we made chitchat about the food and the snow. “Oh, there’s my probation officer,” Amber said, giggling; her face brightened, as if she had a little crush on him. “I think he sees us. He’s sitting right over there by the window.” We looked up to see the probation officer, his blue jacket still on, his bottomless Diet Coke stacked with ice. A going-to-seed hunk in a windbreaker: the world seemed full of them. We all just stared to buy ourselves time, I suppose, and to avoid the actual question of Amber’s crimes.
Letitia began to speak to Sarah, on Amber’s behalf. “Amber is happy to meet Tassie as well as you, Sarah.” Here Amber looked across at me and rolled her eyes, as if we were two girls out with our embarrassing mothers. I had been noticing Amber’s face, which was as lovely as advertised but sassy, with a strange electricity animating it, and with the missing teeth she seemed like a slightly educated hillbilly or an infant freak. her hair was a gingery blond, shoulder length, as straight and course as a horse’s tail. “Amber is wondering, of course, about your religious plans for the baby. She is very interested in having the baby baptized Catholic, aren’t you, Amber?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Amber. “That’s the whole point of this.” She pulled out the front of her bulging stretchy sweater and let it snap back.
“And of course, she would hope you would have the child confirmed as well, when the time came.”
“We could do that. We could definitely do that,” Sarah said agreeably.
“Were you raised Catholic?” asked Amber.
“Uh, well, no, but my cousins were,” said Sarah, as if this solved everything.
What are you reading today?