Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

From Comic to Catastrophic

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

From Comic to Catastrophic

Article excerpt


A GATE AT THE STAIRS by Lorrie Moore (Faber, [pounds sterling]15.99) IT IS autumn 2001, and in a liberal Mid-Western city called Troy, Tassie Keltjin, the daughter of a potato farmer, is trying to find a part-time job. Tassie has only recently left home for college, where she has signed up for all sorts of bijou courses including one on the theme music of war movies but she is the loneliest freshman you will ever meet. It is not just that so much about her new life -- Chinese food; English Lit professors who wear jeans and a shirt and tie at the same time -- bewilders her. There is something about Tassie that keeps her apart from people, even those she loves. She has a tendency to use jokes as a shield; and she has an immense capacity for inertia. For a girl whose wit is sharper than the prairie frost, her most common state is best described as one of perilous stupefaction.

A job, then, will not only help to pay her bills. It will get her out into a world she is only just beginning to understand.

The couple who eventually employ her, Sarah and Edward Brink, are charismatic but mysterious (not to mention wellnamed).

Sarah runs a too-serious restaurant; Edward is a scientist, with hair -- "like he was wearing a cape" -- to prove it. Tassie will be their childcare.

Any day now, they will take home their new mixed-race daughter, whose name is Mary but whom they call Emmie. Tassie feels instinctively that there is something off about this name-change. But then, there is something off about Sarah and Edward generally: a failure of tone even she can pick up.

In the offices of the adoption agency, Emmie's white birth mother reveals that she does not "believe" in mixed-race relationships. Sarah is unfazed. "The whole tragic mulatto thing?" said Sarah, in a light, fluffy sarcasm that had flown in from some other conversation entirely. …

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