- History Inside Out
One approaches Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling water from an angle through the trees, the water out of sight. Kelcey Parker captures this moment well as the group of tourists—many of whom will go on to narrate Liliane’s Balcony: A Novella of Fallingwater—begin their tour. What happens to a visitor primarily is the sound. Marvel of modern architecture and embrace of nature that the building is, the aural pleasure of coexisting with and over top of the water is the primary sense a visitor tends to receive first, and what often ultimately stays memorable about a visit. To hear the water falling “is the point of the house, the architect had explained,” Liliane tells us on the first page.
For a book to mimic the house, a few things should happen. First, there must be a haunting. In this Kelcey Parker provides. The novella moves back and forth between the past and present. The past is narrated primarily from Liliane’s perspective. We get her early joy at her union to first cousin Edgar Kaufmann, her work and his neglect, his infidelities, and her depression, finally culminating in suicide within the house at Bear Run, Fallingwater. The present day narrators include a 12-year-old girl, simply called “The Daughter;” and she can sense the ghost of Liliane still in the house.
Second for book to be as house, there must be a layering, a cantilevering (if you will). This is accomplished in the multiple narrator / multiple time approach to the story. The characters each have their own distinct voice. Their sections are each headed by their names—Liliane, The Daughter, Amanda, Janie, Josiah Quimby, even Frank Lloyd Wright (as FLLW) speaks sometimes. FLLW’s sections are often short and crisp one- or two-liners that tend to build a skillful bridge between the architectural theory and the bodies within. “Any house is a far too complicated, clumsy, fussy, mechanical counterfeit of the human body.” The narrators are distinct in voice and personality, though one could argue Parker never goes deeply enough into any of the present-day characters for a reader to really attach to them.
Additionally, we are given—as needed moments of tenderness between husband and wife—early letters from Edgar away at war. The letters give another layer. We are able to see the profusion of affection from Edgar (“Liliane my only love”) while simultaneously carrying our given understanding of his philandering ways. Without these letters a reader might question the veracity of any love that once existed between the two.
Third, in building the book the author must evoke some sense of movement, some sense of flow. At nearly 200 pages, Liliane’s Balcony is a quick, engaging read. This reader had no problem picking up the story’s many threads and holding on until the end in one sitting.
The sections are intense, fast-moving and tightly condensed. Most sections are 1–3 pages and move from a detail in the present—observation of or movement through the house—and swing outward to deal with some aspect of the individual narrator’s life. Through this structure, Parker weaves the story of the house, threads in each character’s own desperation, and makes both sides of this divide larger and more meaningful to us as readers.
This said, the book operates best when it moves away from this strict patterning of jump cuts. Most engaging are the longer sections where we are given more of Liliane’s narrative, more information in larger chunks of prose—spanning up to 8 pages. In these moments, Parker takes time to smooth out her prose and develop lyric rhythms that result in moments of beauty in language, such as “He spoke through his hands that held and shifted her” and “she will arrive downstairs to oversized hollyhocks shipped from who-knows-where (though she prefers orchids), to find a husband already engrossed in the day’s news and menu, in the next round of visitors...