Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lorrie Moore

My days seem to get busier and busier and that pushes reading into further little corners and short bursts of time. We recently vacationed in San Francisco and Sonoma, but about all I managed to read even then was a wine list (that's me chilling my toes on the Pacific beach, satisfyingly tiny and distant on the strand).

Flying makes me restless, so I tend to flip through magazines and look out the window -- I can't concentrate on a book. So even though I carried Lorrie Moore's novel A Gate at the Stairs along for the ride, I didn't actually crack it until I got home again.

Years ago, I read Birds of America, and remember liking the stories a lot, although I couldn't tell you much about it now. I just remember that they were clever, humorous, and had a unique voice. This novel is narrated by a Midwestern college girl named Tassie Keltjin, who gets a regular babysitting job for a rather mysterious yuppie couple adopting a mixed-raced child. Tassie is a cool narrator who plays her cards close to the vest, slow to react, and something of a loner, although not entirely by choice. The novel seemed to take a meandering track, often Victorian in its attention to mundane details of physical description, and although I thought it was oddly paced, the writing was good and often funny.

There were a few moments when things the characters said sounded a bit false -- and sometimes Moore went on a little too long, making satirical fun of some of the self-consciously liberal-political "support group" back-and-forth that formed several scenes. However, unlike most novels that I love for the first three-quarters only to find that they flop for me in the end, this book did the opposite. Maybe not even the last quarter, but the last 50 or so pages, I found completely mesmerizing -- forcing me to stay up way past my bedtime to finish it. When things suddenly got weird -- if not surreal -- Moore seemed to slide into another gear.

You find out why the rather eccentric couple is so mysterious, Tassie's boyfriend's true colors are revealed, and then tragedy strikes, and the way Moore handles all of this serves to make the story much more expansive, poignant, and even rather disturbing.

Now, on to other things, but I don't know what. With my schedule, I think I need to stick with some quicker reads for awhile yet.