Lorrie Moore's Sad Decline

Dan Green: not a fan of Lorrie Moore’s career trajectory:

Moore’s 2009 novel, A Gate at the Stairs, shows the most precipitous decline into banality and unearned emotion yet. It may be the worst novel by a “name” author I’ve ever read, which is made all the more dismaying by the fact it comes from a writer I once admired. Once again this is a story that leans heavily on the initial emotional appeal of children, but in this case although an orphaned child is introduced and her plight made a center of interest for a while, utlimately this narrative thread has very little emotional weight and is finally dropped, not to be taken up again. Other potentially emotion-laden episodes are introduced as well, but they all remain surprisingly inert, both in narrative and emotional effect. Thus, while the situations evoked in the novel are potentially mawkish, they are executed with so little imagination and formal integrity they essentially just arise and recede without making much of an impression at all. The death of the protagonist’s brother, for example, seems so arbitrary, so clearly the product of narrative convenience that her reaction to it is almost grotesquely overwrought. We’ve been given so little reason to care about the brother, or so little insight into the relationship between sister and brother, this episode as the novel’s climactic event falls disastrously flat even in a narrative that never gets off the ground anyway.


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Because of reviews like yours, I decided not to read A Gate at the Stairs. Having followed Moore almost since the beginning of her career, I saw a decline in her writing developing many years ago, and this is the outcome I expected for the novel. She still has an army of devotees, but one more disappointment will be enough to make them break ranks en masse.

I’ve written elsewhere that the early landing of a tenure-track position at the University of Wisconsin has led to a dearth of experience in a life that was uneventful to begin with. Some argue that struggling artists need their struggle assuaged. I don’t agree, and Lorrie Moore is a case in point.

Agree 100%.

You guys can’t read.

Not only can we read, but we also have the guts to use our actual names, unlike you with your empty criticism. If you’re open to discussion, I’ll be glad to elaborate on my position and defend it.

Although “anonymous” is too meek to have an actual discussion, I’ve put together a very short critique of Lorrie Moore’s work. Rather than suffer through “A Gate at the Stairs,” I reread “Real Estate,” one of the stories in “Birds of America.” This particular story, which must have been written around 1998, had never been published previously. I doubt it would have passed muster for “The New Yorker.”

Ruth, the protagonist, is a stock Moore character: her husband, Terence, is a serial cheater, and though she has already had one lung removed for cancer and undergone chemotherapy, she still smokes. Of course, they never discuss anything substantative, and Ruth lingers on in unhappy silence. In an attempt at pedantic word usage, Moore refers to a keloidal scar as a “ketoidal track.” The plot includes a couple of absurdities that I assume are supposed to be entertaining. An unknown fifteen-year-old boy named Tod illegally occupies Ruth’s attic unbeknownst to her – even though she and Terence have heard him clomping around for days. There is a burglar named Noel who breaks into people’s homes while they’re in bed, makes them sing him songs, and transcribes the words before robbing them. In the denouement, Ruth, who has been practicing shooting in order to kill unwanted crows in the yard, shoots and kills Noel. Finally Ruth runs from the house barefoot, and, as in countless Lorrie Moore stories, there is a rush of evocative language that sympathetically represents what might simply be called clinical depression.

When I say that Moore’s work has declined in quality, it’s because she was writing the same sorts of things twenty years ago and has become formulaic. Without reading it, I presume the failure of “A Gate at the Stairs” would be starker, with these unsatisfactory elements jumbled into a full-length novel that wasn’t edited properly. I agree with Dan Green that her language can still be beautiful, but have hoped that by now she would be able to write something better: a book that comes to grips with more than a few artificially constructed vicissitudes of life, that doesn’t rely on overwrought emotional set pieces, and that appeals to mature, educated adults.

Correction: A version of “Real Estate” appeared in “The New Yorker” just as “Birds of America” was being published.

I am currently reading A Gate at the Stairs and somewhat agree with this critique. It is not as good as some of her earlier short stories. In general, I find her writing to be lacking something in terms of plot and character development, but I really like the way she describes things and the random bursts of humor. I definitely laugh out loud at times when reading Moore’s work, and that is enough incentive for me I suppose.

Yes, well, I didn’t much like A Gate At the Stairs, but I read it quickly unable to put it down anyway. I think this was because a) I really loved Anagrams, Birds of America, and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, and b) because I wanted something to HAPPEN! I felt that I related to Tassie because I was around her age at that time, but who lives in that isolated world? Who goes around not knowing or interacting with anyone? I couldn’t believe how bleak it was and I can get down with bleak, believe me. Also, the plot was a wandering stream that had no climax besides the series of disappointments and loss (or the strange scene in the coffin). Some joy would have helped. The scenes with Murph were the best and most real in the book.

Just…and I mean just finished the novel and boy was it a dissapointment. I live in Milwaukee and just had to go to Madison for two days and while there I kept thinking about what a really great town Madison is. The novel was so poorly edited that I wanted to send her an email offering to edit her next effort. The purple prose and sardonic quips by the narrator…and all the excamation points!!!!How did a writing teacher let those get so out of control.
Her parents were so weird, her relationship with her brother was not developed enough and the couple she worked for were uber creeps. I was relieved the baby was out of the mess…and I was relieved I got out as well.

[…] have a knot in my stomach.  I’ve just been to conversationalreading.com, after Googling one of my favorite authors, Lorrie Moore. I read a conversation entitled, […]

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