January 16, 2013 by Reader's Connection
Tassie Keltjin, the narrator of Lorrie Moore’s novel A Gate at the Stairs, is attending college and lives in a Midwestern college town. She is hired by an exotic couple, Sarah and Edward, who want help with the child they’re going to adopt. The reader spends a lot of time wondering, Who are these people? Edward is a doctor doing some sort of research, and Sarah operates a high-end restaurant, but the reader guesses that behind their affluence something is amiss.
If someone insists on making a movie out of Gate, I hope James Rebhorn is cast as Edward. He’s too old for the part, but this is how Tassie describes Edward when she first lays eyes on him.
His gaze, which had been on [Sarah], turned to his own paper cup of coffee, which he sipped from, as if it were not just delicious but urgent, and I could see he was showing us himself, his aquiline profile, his handsome objectness, so that for a minute he did not have to trouble himself to admire us but to soak up our appreciation of him. He had snapped in two the connecting gaze he had quickly made, then unmade, with Sarah . . .
. . . Despite everything, she was in love with him. I had not seen love very much, and it was hard for my midwestern girl’s mind to imagine being in love with a guy this flamboyantly self-involved and, well, old.
And I hope the Coen brothers direct, though I’m mostly thinking of all the snow in Fargo, which brings to mind a problem that I have with the book. I enjoy narrators who try to look at everything closely, and Tassie’s accounts of the heartbreaking meetings with a couple of birth mothers and a foster family are well done, as is her ongoing account of the disturbing behavior of Sarah and Edward. But at times Tassie’s gloomy ramblings seem tedious. How many descriptions of evolving ground snow do I really need?
This is a Lorrie Moore novel, though, so there is eventually a variation on the snow theme that makes me smile. Since it’s part of an evocation of springtime in a Midwestern college town, and since some of you are already hungering for the equinox, I should share. Whatever my misgivings about the novel, I’m glad to have read it.
Flowers that intended to impress only bugs had accidentally enchanted not just me. Gardens began to emerge. Every third day there was a hot lemony sun, with the lawns starting to green from rain and melted snow. The fraternity boys started to wear shorts and the siberian violets blued the yards. Still, you could sometimes see, in a shady north corner, a small black-flecked pile of snow so solid and condensed it could not melt. It was as if it had changed, biochemically, into a new substance, like the silica on Mars that was the tag end of some water or other.