Liliane’s Balcony: A Novella of Fallingwater
by Kelcey Parker
Rose Metal Press, October 2013
A few key points to know about Parker’s new novella: it’s told in several different points of view; the sections are written as flash fiction; the center is Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural achievement, Fallingwater; the counterpart to the house is Liliane, the real-life first owner of Fallingwater who also overdosed and died there; and some sections are actual letters Liliane’s husband Edgar Kaufmann wrote to her.
The majority of the novella follows Liliane’s point of view, detailing the sadness she feels as a result of her cheating husband. We learn it is a marriage for business convenience, and that Liliane and Edgar are first cousins, as were her parents before her. Some of the themes of Liliane’s life–that she doesn’t have all the children she wants, that she is heartbroken, that Fallingwater is a trustworthy place–come back in the four contemporary characters who visit Fallingwater as part of a tour. Amanda, Janie, Josiah, and “the daughter” all get their own sections that reveal the troubles that haunt them.
The novella is broken into parts, and each part contains several flash fiction pieces in those different points of view, that swing from past to present. In the present, Janie cannot have a child with her husband, which reflects Liliane’s own sadness. She wants siblings for her only son, but since Edgar cannot remain faithful, it is another woman who has the child she wanted. Amanda is haunted by the death of her father and is heartbroken from being stood up for this very trip. “The daughter” is a typical precocious girl who believes Liliane’s ghost is at Fallingwater and will make herself known. Josiah’s mind is mostly on a woman he kissed in a bar, a very forward move that was reciprocated. The individual sections are tight and yet detailed, interesting but limited because they are so brief.
In the past timeline, Liliane details her husband’s infidelities and the woman she believes he cares for the most–a nurse whom Liliane calls “Stoops.” In one particular Stoops section, Parker shows off her attention to sound and her care in choosing just the right word: “The sounds are too much. Liliane is supposed to live with the waterfall, not with Stoops. She lifts herself to a sitting position and plants her feet on the floor until the room stops Stooping. Stop. Another pill. A drink of water.” If you imagine the sound of a waterfall, you can hear a roar, but also a distinct “ssssss” sound. All of the s-words Parker uses here focuses the readers attention on the sound of the falling water, but also Stoops the home wrecker.
The past and present mix in the way the Parker denies certain characters an identity for a time. Janie’s husband is simply “the man.” We do not learn his name until the very end. Amanda’s ex-boyfriend is known as “Motherfucker.” This sounds common when we’re thinking of denying a loved one we no longer love, but Liliane is denied an identity for a time, too: she is Lillian at age 12, Liliane in her 20s, and Ilia when she is with her lover Richard. Even the river is denied an identity for hundreds of years because there is no one there to name it. The river, Ahi Opihele, has two sections of its own narration.
Liliane’s lovers are not the focus of the novella; more attention is given to her husband’s infidelities. When Liliane sees Stoops and Edgar together when Stoops should have left for the day, Liliane feels as though sides have been taken, in a way. It’s her husband and his lover versus Liliane and Fallingwater, the house she keeps (a strong metaphor for setting up a house versus a home wrecker). When Stoops is clearly moving in on Liliane’s turf, so to speak, the full force of the waterfall is with Liliane: “The waterfall thunders its sturm und drang through the open balcony doors, and Liliane imagines her own mouth, open, with the waterfall as the voice of her fury.” Then again, we are nearly asked to forgive Edgar’s obvious affairs because he is so tender toward his wife (and Parker admits she was surprised by their relationship meaning more than business) when we read his letters to Liliane:
“Lillian my only love:–
Am wondering as I write if you are smiling as you read especially when I call you my only love? You are and always will be, Lillian, but I do not deserve you, not because I do not know what is right, but because of my nature. Do you sometimes love me, Lillian?”
For me, the hurt that present-day Amanda and Janie feel really seemed to parallel Liliane’s sadness in ways that weren’t beat-me-over-the-head obvious. Janie and Amanda ARE different from Liliane, since Janie can adopt a baby and Amanda grows from her new separation. Since I felt that the center of Fallingwater was the story of a woman’s heartbreak, I really wanted this to be a novella that spoke more about the burdens women carry. I wanted to see a clearer meaning behind why Amanda and Janie have any connection to Fallingwater (other than being there on the same day).
In this frame of mind, I felt like Josiah made the novella bumpy, interrupting it with his strange episode that makes everyone else on the tour think he’s dying (because he’s so happy? I was a bit confused). I also felt iffy about “the daughter”–she claims she sees Liliane’s ghost, but since we are in the girl’s mind, other input is lacking, which made me view her more as imaginative than a source of moving the story forward.
Overall, the collection is especially interesting, in addition to Parker’s style, for taking on so many unique voices (there are 12 by the end) and its use of history and research and Parker’s own involvement with Fallingwater.