Pauline Masurel reviews Liliane’s Balcony by Kelcey Parker
by Kelcey Parker
Rose Metal Press, 2013
Reviewed by Pauline Masurel
Liliane knows the house is sound. There are many things she does not trust in this life, but she trusts the house and its builder. Where her husband enlists experts and second opinions on the house, she would like to enlist experts and second opinions on this life of theirs.
The Pennsylvania house Fallingwater, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is the main protaganist in this book. But apart from the building itself, the pre-eminent character in Liliane’s Balcony is Liliane Kaufman, who lived in the house and for whom it was built. The tragedy of her marriage to Edgar is the central pillar running through the book.
‘The worst part about it was that he loved her. The more he loved her, the more it terrified her because he was incapable of loving only her. Because she could not possibly love him more than she did – than she always had – she embarked on what would become a lifelong effort to love him less.’
Interspersed with the main story is a series of contemporary stories about a disparate collection of people who happen to be paying a visit to the house at the same time. There’s ‘a tribe of four very tall Vikings speaking in a Viking tongue and wearing strange leather shoes that would seem to belong to elves rather than Vikings’. A young girl is there with her parents. ‘She is going to be an architect, and she is going to design haunted houses with staircases that lead to wherever she decides. Down into a pig pen, or up to a bird’s nest. To the end of the rainbow. To a candy factory. To a ghost’s grave’. Then there’s Josiah Quimby, ‘a man of high culture and Harley-Davidsons’. Many of these visitors are at pivotal moments in their own lives, facing dilemmas, falling in and out of love.
Quotations from architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and extracts from the Kaufmans’ correspondence and Fleetwood Mac lyrics are scattered through the text, creating a sort of literary docu-drama. The sections are stitched together carefully, revealing the stories gradually, placing them in relation to each other and their setting.
This is a light, airy, deftly-written book. Its characters linger. Conversely, the tiny sections give a fractured feel to the narrative particularly in the beginning; the reader must trust that meaning will be revealed. Perhaps the central difficulty I had with Liliane’s Balcony was reconciling the structure that I encountered with its cover – which bills it as ‘a multi-voiced novella-in-flash’. I expected the sections of the book to be self-contained narratives that could be read individually, perhaps in any order. Attempts to do so disappointed and confused me because the sections only truly resolve themselves as parts of a longer sequence.
I found myself wondering if this book actually qualifies as short fiction at all, or whether it would be more accurate to describe it as a novella with many sub-plots. But I did find that, having enjoyed reading in a sequential way, a satisfying alternative scheme was to unpick and read one-after-another the sections for an individual character to tell a complete story in which the other characters are incidental. Liliane’s Balcony would have been a much lesser work if it had simply told the story of Liliane without being enriched with those of the present-day visitors to the house. It would have been a more conventional collection of short stories if Kelcey Parker had partitioned Liliane’s story into chunks and slipped them between each of the other characters stories left whole. What Parker has constructed is much more mysterious, filigree and alive.
Perhaps it’s fitting that I should have found myself focusing on structural issues, for structure matters in fiction as well as in architecture. The storeys of the Fallingwater house are integral to its whole and so are the formal layers of this book. ‘Any house is a far too complicated, clumsy, fussy, mechanical counterfeit of the human body.’ The building blocks of Liliane’s Balcony are the words themselves, and the words are beautifully handled, the layers well-constructed. Adventurous and worth the risk, like Fallingwater itself, this book is sound. As Frank Lloyd Wright said: ‘The truth is more important than the facts.’
Read the opening of Liliane’s Balcony here
About the reviewer: Pauline Masurel is. She has usually lived close to water.