A Gate at the Stairs: Chapters 5 and 6, Plus Questions for the Author

While I knew something was up in the Thornwood-Brink house, I was completely floored by the story of Gabriel. I have been both the passenger and the driver in cars that have been pulled off the road due to a child’s unruly behavior, but leaving him? What?!? I could not believe that John/Edward drove away and that Susan/Sarah didn’t open the door and get out, even if the car was moving. I am still dumbfounded when I reread this passage, and want to know, did Moore make this up out of whole cloth or did she actually hear of such an incident in real life? As a parent, I cannot stomach John/Edward’s actions and reaction and just think he is the devil incarnate. A wave of sad understanding (briefly) washed over me for Sarah, because now I understand she is just crazy—crazy with guilt and regret. Witness to and responsible for (equal to John/Edward, in my book) the death of her child. She is now some unhinged creature who, while telling this story to Tassie, can blithely offer Liza (maybe one of Edward’s paramours?) a glass of wine.

Did anyone notice that the narrator shifts to Susan/Sarah in the middle of telling Gabriel’s story (page 239)? We see her inner workings in the midst of this crisis…and what was missing was her maternal instinct to save her child no matter what. Tassie identified it as an “uneasy deferral to power.” What was your reaction to this series of revelations about Susan/Sarah, John/Edward, Gabriel, and Mary-Emma?

So many losses in these two chapters—Gabriel, Mary-Emma, and Robert. But also a couple of important rebirths—Murph’s awakening from her near-death paperwhite poisoning and Tassie’s emergence from Robert’s casket into the arms of her understanding mother. After so many rights of passage, Tassie rises up phoenixlike from the remainders of childhood to face life as an adult. She has gone through many gates and up and down many stairs, and when she is faced with Edward again she knows better.

In terms of the novel as a whole, I was a fan. The story swept me away, and yet Moore’s writing encouraged me to pay attention to the details. I wonder to what extent she embroiders her writing with themes she wants to thread through the novel after her first draft is written. One more question for her. I hope you have a few.

It’s time to wrap this discussion up. Thank you so much for your insightful comments and questions. I’d love to hear what you thought about the whole book, as well as Chapters 5 and 6 in particular. I’d also like to get your questions for Lorrie Moore by this Friday, November 6, because she has graciously agreed to answer a few.

—Gary

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