Lorrie Moore is a wonderful writer. I’ve read her short stories and love them. But this novel, A Gate at the Stairs, I did not love.
Tassie Keltjin is a student at a mid-western college in need of a job. She signs on as a nanny for a middle-aged couple who adopt a biracial child. The relationship between Tassie and little Emmie is delightful, and Moore does a great job depicting the insidiousness of racial bias. But the past life of the adoptive parents intrudes, and all goes downhill.
One of the first rules of fiction is that it must be believable. Moore, a writer of the highest caliber, violates this rule.
No mother would ever allow her husband to put their four-year-old son out of the car beside a busy interstate because the kid was kicking the seat. And if there were such a mother, or father, and if the four-year-old should walk into traffic and be killed, surely such terrible parents would go to jail for the rest of their lives. They could not simply change their identities and move on to become a highly respected scientist searching for a cure for cancer and the owner of a successful gourmet restaurant.
No sane person would ever climb into a coffin with someone who had been dead for several weeks, close the lid, and ride from the church to the cemetery inside that coffin with that putrescent body.
Sadly, this book is filled with things that are simply not unbelievable. The Brazilian lover suddenly turns terrorist, cleans out his apartment, and disappears. The restaurateur mixes up a batch of unknown ingredients and has Tassie put them in her frig with orders not to eat it. There is no explanation for this odd behavior.
Tassie goes on such wild, rambling, flights of imagination one wonders about her sanity.
This book, and the things that happen, do not meet the test of believability. I should have put it down long before I got to that funeral scene.