“Each material has its own message and, to the creative artist, its own song. Listening, [s]he may learn to make the two sing together.” Frank Lloyd Wright knew the art of crafting a structure that complements the space it inhabits. And as he suggests, artists must make music from the intersection of materials and messages. Like Frank Lloyd Wright’s infamous Fallingwater (the setting for this book), Liliane’s Balcony is an architectural treat. Form and content are married perfectly in Kelcey Parker’s novella. Even the font and structure of the book were intentionally engineered. The font is influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and the time period in which he created Fallingwater, and each symbol beneath the chapter’s heading is taken from Wright’s own Prairie-style geometric patterns. The various narratives speaking throughout the novella operate like the various cantilevers and balconies of Fallingwater, allowing the reader to step out into a new narrative, but always ducking back inside to the narrative of Liliane.
The first storyline is that of Liliane, the lady of Fallingwater. She lives in this beautiful home on the waterfall designed by her friend and architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, but underneath she suffers from the various affairs of her husband, Edgar. The second storyline depicts the thoughts of each individual of a tour group as they move through Fallingwater during present time. Parker sways back and forth between several of the tourists’ thoughts and memories, to Liliane’s experiences, to the letters of her husband, and advice from the famous Wright himself (in the book referred to as FLLW). Both FLLW’s and Edgar’s words are borrowed from historical documents, and I marvel at how Parker found the perfect snippets and phrases to enhance her fictional narratives.
Despite this being a slight book, a cluster of characters percolates in its pages, moving us through the house. This approach could be overwhelming or cumbersome in the hands of some writers, but with Parker’s skill, each character is an amuse-bouche—a treat to the literary taste buds. Yes, at times I wanted more, but I savored the delicate pieces I had.
Back to the cast: there is Liliane, the lady of the house, who “is given the premiere room, the gravity-defying balcony.” There’s Lillian, her child self who falls in love with her cousin Edgar. And Edgar—the husband who writes poetic love letters, though he has affairs whenever he can. He has an affair with the nurse, whom Liliane calls “Stoops.” And then the tourists. Amanda, who is on a trip by herself, after being ditched by a beau. Janie, who is drifting from her husband and feels, once standing in Liliane’s room, hearing the waterfall, that she has stepped through “the white noise of a womb, her empty womb.” There’s Josiah Quimby, a rough and tough biker; and Daughter, the teenage youth who encounters Liliane’s ghost. And who can forget FLLW—the famous architect himself, who writes: “Any house is a far too complicated, clumsy, fussy, mechanical counterfeit of the human body.”
Strangers come together, and their presence transforms Fallingwater into a living entity. The staircase, the balcony, the atmosphere of the home are shapeshifters, symbolizing different things for the different people who inhabit the space. The house allows the characters to dig deeply and find themselves, and to undergo—in many ways—a nearly spiritual transformation. Daughter, especially, is moved by the house. Daughter communes with Liliane’s ghost and decides that she will “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.”
Though at the end of the book, I was sad to leave the world of Fallingwater and wished at times to get more of Liliane, to hear more from the Daughter encountering Liliane’s ghost, the work itself was complete. Parker has convincingly established that the novella is a form worth reading in its own right.