In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • The Novella:Four New Collections
  • Jacqueline Kolosov (bio)
Liliane’s Balcony: A Novel of Fallingwater by Kelcey Parker. Rose Metal Press, 208 pp., $14.95 (paper)
A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me by David Gates. Alfred A. Knopf, 314 pp., $25.95 (hardcover)
Elegy on Kinderklavier by Arna Bontemps Hemenway. Sarabande, 232 pp., $15.95 (paper)
Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III. W. W. Norton, 292 pp., $25.95 (hardcover)

Though the novella can loosely be defined as some 60 to 130 pages of prose fiction, length is only one part of the equation and cannot speak to the magic of the form. The novella’s effect, unlike that of the short story, is cumulative rather than immediate. The novella allows for a subplot or two, though plot need not be at the heart of the form. In “Some Notes on the Novella” (New Yorker, October 29, 2012), Ian McEwan stresses the need for an economy that requires the writer to “bring off [his or her] effects with unusual intensity.”

As a frame for discussing the novellas under review here, I found myself immediately drawn to two additional statements by McEwan, whose novella On Chisel Beach had the rare honor of being short-listed for the prestigious Booker Prize. First, in addition to sparing us the novel’s “swollen mid-section,” McEwan emphasizes the novella’s “architecture” as one of its “immediate pleasures.” The statement is valuable for [End Page 183] its emphasis on structure and craftsmanship—for studying the novella as a made thing.

Two of the novellas under review here focus directly on architecture and architects. The first is Kelcey Parker’s Liliane’s Balcony, a multi-voiced work set at Fallingwater, the fabled house Frank Lloyd Wright built in 1936 for Liliane Kaufmann and her husband, Etgar, first cousins and department-store magnates from Pittsburgh. Parker herself has served as a volunteer Ask-Me Guide on the grounds, and her experience of the place and of the couple who lived there inspired her to dig more deeply into their story. Etgar Kaufmann was notoriously unfaithful, and the beautiful and cultured Liliane weathered his infidelities. On September 7, 1952, however, she fatally overdosed on sleeping pills at Fallingwater, and Etgar was the one to find her. Liliane’s trials in marriage and her suicide are at the center of Liliane’s Balcony, a syncopated narrative that captures the rhythms and inflections of a multiplicity of voices. The novella alternates between Liliane’s story—with strategically placed “chapters” spoken by Etgar and other members of their circle—and the narrative of a single house tour from the point of view of four present-day visitors. In her Author’s Note, Parker describes the novella’s structure in architectural language:

The multiple voices and hybrid structure emerged in the earliest draft, and I came to see the form as analogous to that of Fallingwater. Just as Fallingwater’s stone chimney serves as the structural vertical core, rising from the rock foundation and supporting the rest of the house, Liliane’s story serves as the book’s core. The other characters’ sections extend forth like multiple cantilevered balconies. I also knew very early on that the book would be a novella—that Fallingwater is, to my mind, a novella-sized house.

With very few exceptions, each chapter bears a character’s name, and it is through the immediacy of Liliane’s sensory experience that the reader enters the novella’s Prologue:

Liliane strains to hear the falling water. She closes her eyes to open her ears to hear the water falling, for that is the point of the house, the architect had explained, to live with the waterfall. It was too plain merely to see the waterfall. One had to live with it, hear its voice, feel its pulse. [End Page 184] But Liliane, in her bed, in early September, with the terrace door open despite the threat and scream of late-summer insects, cannot.

Not until the chapter’s end does the reader understand that Liliane is in the midst of committing suicide:

She hears a bullfrog, but no answer, no waterfall. It is the contrast between inside and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 183-195
Launched on MUSE
2015-12-30
Open Access
No
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