Lorrie Moore puts good-hearted Tassie Keltjin, protagonist of “A Gate at the Stairs”, through an improbable amount of complex heartache in a short period of time. Tassie leaves her quirky family’s Midwestern organic farm to attend college in the fall of 2001. Only passing (and actually, rather refreshingly flippant) reference is made to what we all know happened that fall, but somehow it still manages to bring a sense of bewilderment and vague emotional paralysis coupled with yearning to all of Tassie’s interactions in the ensuing months.Gates and stairs, literal and figurative, do indeed show up regularly in this wry, haunting novel. The reader and Tassie realize perhaps too late that she has most longed to climb stairs and open gates where she wasn’t wanted, needed or fully appreciated. After the fact, she questions with more insight and self-awareness whether or not she established any real connections with the people she encountered during that pivotal year, or just experienced some “random obviousness shared between strangers”. Ironically, whether it was random or not, it wasn’t obvious, at least not to the trusting and strangely optimistic Tassie. Also ironically, where it is clearly obvious that with a bit of communication on her part, she can save people she loves and who love her, she doesn’t. In one case, tragedy is averted, but in another, it isn’t. Perhaps all this then sounds like a downer of a book featuring a frustrating and hapless heroine. Strangely but wonderfully, in Moore’s skilful and compassionate rendering, it is not only *not* that, but surprisingly optimistic at the end. “A Gate at the Stairs” is engrossing and engaging throughout Tassie’s journey to self-awareness, confidence and maturity.