I finished Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs this weekend.
This book began for me before I was even familiar with Lorrie Moore’s name. Someone posted a quote from A Gate at the Stairs on their blog and I thought it was one of the best things I had ever read. Here is the quote:
"It was like that classic scene in the movies where one lover is on the train and one is on the platform and the train starts to pull away, and the lover on the platform begins to trot along and then jog and then sprint and then gives up altogether as the train speeds irrevocably off. Except in this case I was all the parts: I was the lover on the platform, I was the lover on the train. And I was also the train."
Of course, nothing is ever as good as its best part. Though I enjoyed the book and Moore’s writing, it didn’t stun me and break my heart again until the very last lines. I won’t copy them here, though they wouldn’t even make sense to you out of context. But I will tell you that I sat on the subway for five minutes after I closed the book, and stared into space, feeling slapped and bewildered. I couldn’t explain why.
I thought the protagonist of the novel was actually rather dull. She recalls milling about her small Midwest town, insipid and passive. Even her acts of rebellion - a love affair with a Brazilian boy, the purchase of a motor scooter - seem bland and unsexy the way she tells them. When I picture her - Tassie Keltjin - I see her nodding mutely. Then I see her older self, the one really telling the story, looking on with wisdom and disappointment, pointing out her own flaws.
Perhaps the problem was that I couldn’t see myself in either Tassie - old or young. Maybe I sat in quiet, startled silence at the end of the book because I could see that Tassie had finally made the right choice, through her own haze of apathy. And that unlike Tassie - passionless, detached Tassie - I would have made the mistake. Would still make the mistake. Would make it, knowing it was a mistake. What would my older self have to say about that?