Saturday, September 26, 2009

Despearately seeking others to love (Books - A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore)

An aimless literature student at a small town college, Tassie Keltjin, answers an advertisement for a job as a babysitter. She ends up (at least by page 100) accompanying Sarah Brink, an aggressive yuppie restaurant owner, on trips to adoption agencies to meet mothers giving up their babies for adoption, one of them destined to become her charge. Tassie is an awkward, word-loving innocent who is out of her depth in this strange role - who wouldn't be? A babysitter without a baby. Each of the characters in this novel seems to be reaching out blindly for connection with others, their arms flailing in the empty space before them, only rarely striking a body or face to feel and then stumbling on again. The narrative voice is the first person - Tassie's - but she is telling this story from some time in the future by which everything has changed. It is tinted by Lorrie Moore's ruthless camera-like eye for character and her trademark humor, which I find laugh-out-loud funny, if a trifle vicious.
The woman of the house opened the door. She was pale and compact, no sags or pouches, linen skin tight across the bone. The hollows of her cheeks were powdered darkly, as if with the pollen of a tiger lily. Her hair was cropped short and dyed the fashionable bright auburn of a ladybug. Her earrings were buttons of deepest orange, her leggings mahogany, her sweater rust-colored, and her lips maroonish brown. She looked like a highly controlled oxidation experiment. "Come in," she said, and I entered, mutely at first and then, as always, apologetically, as if I were late, though I wasn't At that time in my life I was never late. Only a year later would I suddenly have difficulty hanging on to any sense of time, leaving friends sitting, invariably, for a half hour here or there. Time would waft past me undetectably or absurdly - laughably when I could laugh - in quantities I was incapable of measuring or obeying.

But that year, when I was twenty, I was as punctual as a priest. Were priests punctual? Cave-raised, divinely dazed, I believed them to be.

This combination of perspectives gives Tassie a strange combination of naivetee and wisdom and plumps this quiet story full of a subtle kind of suspense. It pushes me gently forward to see around the next bend how this clueless foal becomes the woman who narrates this story. More on it soon.


Iliana said...

Lorrie Moore is one of those writers I've been meaning to read for I don't know how long... This sounds really good. Must add to the list!

Smriti said...

I'm gonna pick this up in the coming week! Her writing is more like a 21st century American version of Wodehouse!

Ted said...

Iliana - Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? Is great!

Smriti - I'll be interested to know if you maintain that opinion as you read it.