Results tagged “A Gate at the Stairs” from flyover


If you live in the Midwest--and especially if you live in Madison, Wis., as I do--one of the most curious things about following coverage of author Lorrie Moore is what that coverage reveals about attitudes towards this region.  Moore, whose long-awaited new novel just came out, has lived here since 1984, when she joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


I covered A Gate at the Stairs, the new novel, for this week's issue of Isthmus, Madison's alternative weekly, and this aspect of her critical reception is one topic I tried to address (with regard to her previous books).  In a nutshell, too many reviewers have cast her in the role of pithy, coastal intellectual trapped in a land of corn and slow-witted people.  (Just one example:  Ploughshares commented that "the predicaments of East Coast sophisticates landlocked in the Midwest" is a theme in her work, and implied it about Moore as well.)  This has become a cliché that Moore herself is tired of (see her quotes in my article).


It's that same sort of attitude that led my co-bloggers and I to somewhat sarcastically call this blog "Flyover"--so you can imagine my amusement when Michiko Kakutani wrote unironically in the New York Times that "[Moore] gives us bright, digital snapshots of flyover country where nearly every small town has a local Dairy Queen..." (something Kakutani apparently finds exotic and noteworthy). 


Jonathan Lethem's piece for the NYT also touches upon similar territory.  Rather puzzlingly, he wrote that "Moore's class diagnostics are so exact she can make us feel the uneasiness not only between town and country in a single landlocked state, but between different types of farmers on neighboring plots."  This comment tells me more about Lethem than Moore.


Lorrie Moore certainly has her laser-like descriptive gifts, but being able to distinguish in a work of fiction between a Madison-like college town and a rural community is not an extravagant feat.  The differences are obvious, as are the ones between a boutique farmer of gourmet potatoes and a big commercial operation.  Would Lethem be impressed if someone could tell the difference between a yuppie-ish college town in New York and an upstate farming community?  (I won't even get into Lethem's description of Wisconsin as "landlocked," but he might want to look at a map of the Great Lakes.)


For my part, I found A Gate at the Stairs problematic and not entirely satisfying, even though there are plenty of things to like about it.  Not only are the differences between the fictional towns of Troy and Dellacrosse obvious, they're on the verge of hardening into stereotypes (as I wrote in Isthmus, "we're left with fairly stereotypical impressions of a hick rural hamlet and a navel-gazing, lefty college town").  I also thought, as one example, that Tassie's inexperience with things as commonplace as Chinese food--especially given her worldly parents and growing up near a college town--was implausible.  Do these people never go anywhere?


It's great when a Wisconsin writer--and after 25 years here, I think Moore qualifies as such--is also a writer of national and international stature.  There are a number of outstanding people here:  Jane Hamilton, Michael Perry, kids' author Kevin Henkes.  Just don't look so surprised, OK?

September 4, 2009 2:18 PM | | Comments (8)

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