Monday, December 14, 2009

Too Much Sorrow Drags Down a Potentially Interesting Story

Have you ever read a book that was just so buzzed about you couldn't wait to read it, only to find it a big let down in the end. Well, that was pretty much my experience with "A Gate At the Stairs". Maybe it was just that the ending of the book left such a cold taste in my mouth, but this will definitely NOT be on my top ten list!

Lorrie Moore's "A Gate at the Stairs" follows a year in the life of Tassie, a 20 year old college student. Tassie is from a small town in rural Wisconsin, and her world is expanded exponentially over the course of the novel, first by her experience in the college town of Troy, then by her employment as the nanny for a young adopted mixed race girl, and finally by her brother's experience in the military. Through all of these experiences Tassie is forced to reexamine the perspective that has shaped her life and decide who she is and what she believes.

When I started reading this book I was excited--it had received all around rave reviews and I enjoyed Moore's previous work. It soon became clear however that Moore's strength lies in short stories, not in novel length works. I felt like the different sections of this novel--the book doesn't really have chapters, but rather longish sections--weren't really connected to each other, and although the characters were the same there was no continuous narrative thread to hold all of the pieces together. Not that I didn't love some of the sections--particularly the part about Emmie, the little girl Tassie nannies--put the disconnect between them was too much for me. I also finished this novel deeply depressed, which I think skews my opinion of the work as a whole. Since the fictional Tassie and I are roughly the same age, it was extremely discouraging to see one of my peers (even if she is fictional) so negative and bleak at such a young age. I know the novel is set in a dark time and there are tragic events, but the end of this novel is discouraging and so depressing, it overweighs the rest of the story.

I would have a hard time recommending this book to others because it is so dark. Yes, there are some beautiful and uplifting parts, but the end of the book left me cold and depressed. Reader beware.

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