Liliane’s Balcony by Kelcey Parker
by Kelcey Parker
208 pages, Rose Metal Press
In Kelcey Parker’s cleverly woven novella-in-flash, a group of tourists arrives separately at Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic architectural masterpiece, Fallingwater. As they listen to a tour guide praise the house design each tourist suffers a personal crisis, most unaware that the house they have come to admire is flooded with painful memories. Surrounded by a design that hinges on the idea of falling and the constructed attempt to stay the inevitable effects of gravity, these strangers use their present moment in a timeless house to explore pasts and futures. This nicely constructed work refocuses the story of Fallingwater, a story so often about the obsessive architect, on Liliane, the woman who suffered in one of America’s most beautiful homes.
Liliane Kaufmann, first matriarch of the famous house, serves as the genius loci of Parker’s intertwined narrative while multi-voiced flash stories swirl around the building like eddies in the river below. Each tourist learns about the house while reflecting on an inner disharmony. Janie struggles with a husband she’s lost connection with and a pregnancy she cannot achieve while Amanda floats through the tour under the weight of her father’s death. Josiah, “a man of high culture and Harley Davidsons” has found himself awash in feelings for the woman he met at a bar, and The Daughter, her ghostly intuition tuned in to the sorrowful structure, can feel the ever-present pain of Liliane Kaufmann, who suffered quietly through her famous husband’s infidelities. This is a layered story about the stark contrast between inside and out—one soft and warm, one cold and hard— as architect, owner, and tourists attempt to reconcile the two in emotionally complex ways.
The overarching question, the theme, according to Liliane as she stands on her famous cantilever: “if one is on the balcony, is one inside or outside?”
And she answers, “The breeze says outside. But the balcony is not an exposed rock’s edge; it’s part of the house, designed by the architect. Behind her is her room, its warm glow. The French doors are open and the light spills onto the stone patterned ground. The architect had been so clever at dissolving the boundaries of the two.”
Through this lens, the story comments on the distancing between self and façade, inside and out, and relationships that cannot blend the two like Fallingwater does. The house has brought these tourists together to show them how they’ve been torn apart. Its famous design promises the harmonious union that each yearns for.
But even in this harmonious building, ghostly echoes of Liliane’s drowning pain send pills cascading down her throat. She lives always on the precipice, looking down at cascading falls, their ever-present voice tempting her into the depths. Like Liliane, the tourists hope to reinforce their lives, the goal always to stay afloat, to hang on like the reinforced concrete on Liliane’s balcony which is supported, seemingly, by air.
This is a story full of ghosts and memories of lost love. Stories, layered like the house itself, with echoing proportions and reconciling opposites, connect voices which are continually drowned out by the white noise of loss and the white foam of the falls. At any time, the house can serve as a microcosm or a macrocosm—“the grammar of the Earth in a particle of stone”—of the troubled lives within. Outside, the slow, ancient erosion of rock parallels the slow interior erosion of life, marriage, and hope. All victims to the ever-moving water, this group of characters meditates on the steady ebbing away of time. Fallingwater emerges as a character itself, simultaneously a brain, an eye, and a cave-like womb, the water running through it lifeblood, soul, and memory.
Parker never forgets the churning waterfall as it echoes the primordial churning of the soul—wild and unfettered. Throughout each storyline is the unspoken temptation to jump from the rigid structure on which the tourists find themselves and into that rush of freedom. Liliane’s balcony serves as metaphor, character, and place as the tourists’ personal struggles culminate on the fateful ledge alongside Liliane’s ghost.
As the stories come together, we begin to realize that the permanent distinction between the inside and the outside, between the constructed and the natural—no matter how much work goes into blending them seamlessly—will always show. The threshold, the stoop will always mark the divide. Liliane, along with the tourists in her home, realizes that it’s not emotional turmoil that plagues them, “it is the contrast between inside and outside that [they] can no longer abide.”
These stories explore the fine line between respecting the forces around you and being determined to defy them, no matter the cost. Parker’s book offers a lovely tribute to a building so often coupled with its famous architect, and to a forgotten matriarch, a brave and sorrowful voice lost in the noise of falling water.