Picks and Pans Review: A Gate at the Stairs

updated 09/14/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/14/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Lorrie Moore |

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It's been 15 years since Moore's last novel, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? Just a page into Stairs and it's clear the wait was worth it. College student Tassie Keltjin has been hired to babysit a half-black toddler adopted by a white couple after 9/11. "We are doing something important ... and unbearably hard," the adoptive mother says. Moore expertly depicts university-town liberal prejudice, but it's Tassie who makes the novel sing. After a heartbreak, she feels "chopped down like a tree." Who hasn't been there? Tassie is achingly real and, thanks to Moore's nimble prose, an unbeatable guide through the thicket of early adulthood.

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