A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore was another piece of thrift store gold. Please let me share what I learned after reading this 2009 novel.
First lesson – The devil is in the details. Too often when I read books full of detailed descriptions or flashback scenes, a detail is just a detail. But Moore’s details take over the plot, change the direction of the story, and reveal more about the characters than they know about themselves. Put every phrase to good use.
Second lesson – Most of the coming-of-age novels I read are about boys becoming men. Well, girls becoming women in the 21st century is just as hard, just as fraught and real and captivating. Maybe I’ll start with what I’ve lived through and find my next story!
Third lesson – The repercussions of 9/11 in a character-driven plot pack intense emotional weight, especially when examined by the author and felt by the character on a purely personal level. I don’t deny the appeal and compelling nature of more sweeping stories, but it’s the stories of individuals that stick. The novel’s main character was born and raised on a potato farm in the Midwest, but by the end of the novel the fallout from the war in Afghanistan reached deep into her life, gripped firmly, and yanked. As a reader, I was shattered.
Fourth lesson – When writing about the sensitive topics, never sugarcoat. Show your readers the act of racism against a 2 year old, the ratty brown shoes of the cheating husband poking out from beneath the door, or the foster care home where the child is raised by another child.
I’d never read Lorrie Moore before, but I’m so glad I picked up this novel! Check it out Reader, I’m sure you’ll learn more than I did.