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August 28, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

A Gate at the Stairs

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Lorrie Moore
publisher
Knopf
genre
Fiction
We gave it a B

In the celebrated short-story author’s first novel in more than a decade, a farm-raised coed takes on a nanny job with an urbane college-town couple in the months following 9/11. A Gate at the Stairs‘s plot is nominal. As always, the crafted dazzle of Lorrie Moore’s writing stands center stage. Still, at book length, her characters too often feel like players in a paper theater. Their interactions are, in her own words, ”richly meaningless”: A 20-year-old conjures the perfect palindrome to describe her pain in the midst of a devastating breakup; students and middle-aged maids alike speak in improbably dense paragraphs. Lovers of language will find much to enjoy here, but Gate‘s cerebral thrills never quite connect with the heart. B

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