Amen, my retail brothers and sisters.
Helene does it again.

The death knell for fiction.

And who sounded it for me? Lorrie Moore, that's who.

For various reasons I got on the hold list pretty early for her new novel, A Gate at the Stairs. And none of them were bad reasons. For one, if I can remember correctly, I actually kind of enjoyed her novel Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? For another, she works in the city where I live. Also? I write for a reader's advisory database (the fabulous Reader's Advisor Online--and yes, I'm completely unbiased*) and I thought this would be a big fiction title that I should know something about. The consequences of all of those reasons were that my Friday night reading was given over to this book, and what a waste of a night it was. Folks,** this novel is one hot mess.


Now, I'm actually getting weary of enumerating ways in which modern novels suck. (I'm not going to touch the new Dan Brown with a ten-foot pole, sorry, I actually read the Da Vinci Code all the way through and so have completed that homework.) But I think I can tackle this one in a short paragraph: there isn't any subject that Moore doesn't throw in to this novel for maximum effect. We have, just to name a few: 1. a young woman, Tassie Keltjin's, coming of age, in a college city and away from her rural Wisconsin farm upbringing; 2. her mother is a Jewish woman stuck on the farm who seems vaguely unhappy with her lot; 3. Tassie goes to work for an older woman in her college town as a nanny; 4. The child she's nannying is a biracial girl that the older woman has adopted; 5. She falls in love and has a tempestuous physical love affair with a man named Reynaldo; 6. Oh yeah, the events of 9/11; 7. She deals with racism on the street when people yell at her and the biracial child; 8. The marriage of the couple for whom she nannies is falling apart; 9. her younger brother signs up for the military and gets shipped out--guess what happens; and 10. the woman for whom she nannies has a secret past that means she can't handle life with her new adopted daughter.

And somehow? With all that? I was so bored I kept falling asleep, and I never could remember if the main character's name was Tessie or Tassie. Those don't seem like good signs.

Thank you, Lorrie Moore.*** I am officially off fiction until further notice.

*I went to journalism school, people, and if there's one thing you learn, it's that you must at all costs act like you are objective, even when we all know that's impossible.

**The second thing you learn in journalism school is to put a human face on your stories and never, never to sound too elite; hence, "folks." Don't knock it. It got George W. Bush elected twice, and he didn't even have to go to j-school to learn it.

***Moore also didn't have the balls just to set the book in Madison, Wisconsin, although there's some pretty clear references to the city. (Other reviewers have pointed out her "isn't it so cute?" attitude toward Madison in interviews like this one, as well.) Okay. The next time you have your characters visiting a sex supply store in a fictional city, Ms. Moore, at least don't give it the same name as the most well-known erotica shop in the city you're NOT setting your novel in.

This just in: It hurts me to disagree with Bookslut, but I don't think I can agree with Amy Hanridge's review of this book. At one point she even compares Moore to Carol Shields, which also hurts me. It's like comparing Jodi Picoult favorably with Anne Tyler. Yikes. Do yourself a favor; skip this book and read anything by Carol Shields instead.