A Gate at the Stairs, By Lorrie Moore

The epigraph to this compelling novel comes from the unlikely source of the museum guide to New York's Hayden Planetarium: "All seats provide equal viewing of the universe." The character at the centre of the gripping narrative views the universe from myriad perspectives and, in so doing, her political and social viewpoints change in unexpected ways.

Twenty-year-old Tassie moves from her provincial home town to university in Troy in the American Midwest. There, she becomes a part-time nanny to a glamorous couple and their newly adopted mixed-race toddler, and, in their complex household, she finds as much to analyse as in her college books.

Lorrie Moore brilliantly captures the tenderness of youth and the painful journey from innocence to experience. An award-winning short-story writer who has recently been shortlisted for the Orange Prize, Lorrie Moore excels in miniature portraits of her characters and their situations. She here reveals her talent, too, for the grander scale of intersecting paths. And despite the heaviness of her themes, she always retains a lightness of touch.

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