Sunday, August 29, 2010

School Book: A Gate at the Stairs

While I was reading A Widow's Walk, Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs came in from Chapters. It sounded interesting, so I decided to read it as soon as I finished A Widow's Walk.
I sort of regret that decision, but on the plus side at least I have finished the book. I had a really hard time getting into it at first because the narrator, the main character Tassie, rambles all over the place and it never seemed to get to a point. But eventually, a few chapters in, A Gate at the Stairs seemed to pick up. Accompanying her employers, Sarah and Edward, Tassie goes to another city and helps them adopt a biracial little girl, Mary-Emma (or Emmie as Sarah calls her). Tassie is employed as a babysitter for the little girl. And between Tassie, Sarah, and Emmie, the book gets to be rather entertaining between pages 100 and 200 or so, during which time Tassie meets a boy and falls in love, all the while entertaining both Emmie and the other children from Sarah's Wednesday multi-racial support group meetings.
But then the book seems to just keep on rambling with no real point (spoilers in this paragraph!). Sarah tells Tassie a bizarre and terrible story about her past, after which Emmie is recalled by the adoption agency (Sarah and Edward failed to disclose this story to the adoption agency, which has resulted in Emmie being taken away). The book felt like it should have ended here, but instead it rambled on for another 60 pages. Yes, there was another significant event that happened in these sixty pages, but the book just seemed to have no real steam left. Those last sixty pages were a torment to read.
This book is, like A Widow's Walk, for my Literature after 9/11 class. Bizarrely, for the first while I couldn't figure out how it really connected to 9/11. Other than a few references to the events and Tassie being afraid of her first plane ride (which she took with Sarah), there was no explicit connection to 9/11. But once Emmie entered the picture, so did racism. While racism isn't a new phenomenon, it's changed its face after 9/11. Tassie's boyfriend, who claims to be Brazilian, tells her that he kept getting stopped while he was living in New York because of his skin colour. Other than that, Emmie and Tassie are subject to more quiet and insidious forms of racism, like the looks Tassie gets when people assume she is the mother of a biracial child.
Other than that, the end of the book deals more directly with the wars that resulted after 9/11. Tassie's brother decides to join the army and is sent to war directly after finishing basic training. This happens pretty much within the last sixty pages, with the reader never quite sure of where he has gone (he sends a postcard home in which he says he's "shipping out tomorrow," (285), but it doesn't say where). While this ends up an important part of the end of the book, it seems like a footnote. I think that is because we are seeing the world the way Tassie sees it, but it seemed to take away from some of the later events (some of which I have to say were creepy. I won't go into detail).
Really, I thought that most of the book was rambly and I just had a really hard time with it. I never really connected with Tassie, and so I just never really cared about the book.

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