Sometimes I like a novel that spends much of its time wandering through the mind of its protagonist. A Gate at the Stairs is, in fact, very good at doing that, making simple scenes stretch long as each bit of dialogue or slight action sets the main character off on a new tangent of thought. Plot, itself, shouldn't suffer. And it does here, with surprises that arrive without set up, with dead ends and changes of pace that doom the novel.
Centered around a college student who takes a job caring for the newly adopted part-African-American baby of a flighty restaurant owner and her absent husband, the novel carries us close to the mind of Tassie Keltjin, the narrator. Tassie is from the country and out of place in the college town, not a bumpkin but naive. She makes a good narrator because everything she sees in new, and as she gets swept up in this new family we want to urge her to be careful.
Not only does the plot stumble, but Moore also seems to miss opportunities to make the story richer. There are tensions surrounding the child's race, and there is discussions around it. But just discussions. No conclusions seem to be reached, no revelation or resolve of any sort. Other, secondary story lines, suffer similar fates. Then when the main storyline is interrupted by a surprise, the story just falls apart, finally wandering to conclusion many, many pages later.
It's generally not a good sign, when I want to be done with a novel just to be done with it. That was the case here.