A Gate at the Stairs Summary
by Marie Lorena Moore, Lorrie Moore

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Chapter 1 Summary

Lorrie Moore is the author of several story collections and novels and she has won honors from the Lannan Foundation and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Moore has won the Irish Times International Prize for Fiction and the Rea Award for the Short Story. She is a Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. A Gate at the Stairs was published in 2009.


It is a cold December in Troy, Wisconsin, in the winter of 2011, and twenty-year-old Tassie Keltjen is looking for a job. She is from a small farm and came to the university town of Troy to attend school, and for her it was like moving from a cave to a bustling civilization. This city is known to the rest of the state as being a “smug, liberal, recycling, civic-minded” place. Troy is an antagonistic town, particularly towards religion; to its citizens, God is “a cross between a billboard, a charlatan, a hamburger, and a fairy king.” In general, Tassie believes “a little’s a dangerous thing. But so is a lot. And so is none.”

Tassie has just finished her college exams for the semester and is looking for a child-care job beginning in January, though she does not particularly like children—at least not for long stretches of time. After five interviews, Tassie arrives at a house which, though somewhat neglected, makes her think of familiar things. It is on a corner lot, and the gate at the fence is loose and missing a nail. The thin woman who answers the door is colorful, a little older than the other women with whom she has interviewed, and not pregnant.

The interview is odd and a bit uncomfortable, but Tassie is generally uncomfortable in these kinds of settings—actually, in most settings. Her roommate, Elizabeth Murphy Krueger (“Murph”) is never at a loss for words; however, Tassie is. The woman is Sarah Brink. She is forty-five years old and owns a classy restaurant in town; she knows Tassie’s father because he used to come to the farmer’s market in Troy to sell his designer potatoes. Sarah and her husband are planning to adopt and want their child’s caretaker to be involved from the beginning.

After the interview, Tassie goes to her lonely apartment in the “student ghetto” on campus, a building abutting the university stadium. Murph is rarely there, as she is practically living with her boyfriend. There is a phone message from Sarah, asking Tassie to call her back; however, she decides to wait until the morning to do so. In the morning, before Tassie can call her back, Sarah calls and tells her she has the job—but it has to begin today. She and her husband are scheduled to meet with the birth mother in a town several hours away, and they want her to come with them. It is a quick decision to make, but Tassie accepts the position.

The drive is quiet. Edward is unable to get out of his meeting, so it is just Sarah and Tassie who arrive at the local Perkins and wait in silence, drinking coffee, until the girl arrives. Amber is young, very pregnant, and wearing an electronic bracelet on her wrist. She wants her child to be baptized and confirmed in a Catholic church, something Sarah readily agrees to even though she is not a Catholic. The woman with Amber, Letitia Gherlich, is quick to tell Sarah and Tassie that the baby’s father is a handsome white man, obviously trying to sell them on the idea of a “handsome white boy-dad.” Sarah’s face is inscrutable and she says nothing to this piece of information.

Before leaving, Sarah gives Amber some advice about doing something worthwhile rather than trying to sell drugs, a job she is obviously not very good at doing. Amber tells her that is exactly what she is trying to do. The ride home is also quiet except for a phone call from Letitia. Tassie tries not to listen, but Letitia is clearly offering to help her find another child if this one cannot be hers. She explains that international adoptions are becoming easier to do, and not all of the children have dark skin. After Sarah...

(The entire section is 6,213 words.)