“But its language was not language at all,” Kelcey Parker writes. “Music, perhaps, chords of concrete, stone, glass; the melody: falling water.” How very apt. As I’ve been reading through Kelcey Parker’s Liliane’s Balcony I’ve had a confession on my mind: that I often read for language. I’m not a poet, and I’m not a novelist, but when I read in either genre what I’m looking for so often deals with language—the way words hit like a rock, or fall like water.
Parker’s language falls like water. Sure, the book’s form spawned my initial interest—Liliane’s Balcony vignettes itself in shortened bursts of one to three pages, in what could be interpreted as chapters—but language kept me going.
I’ve read through this book, searching (hopefully not mistakenly so) more for images than drama or suspense; as with the provoking, picturesque language found in the chapter “Liliane”: “It was obvious that her new husband knew things about women that one can only learn from other women; things that only women who have been with other men know about themselves. And he taught those things to Liliane.” This elicits a reader’s imagination, or perhaps even his memory, forging a tangible, living moment paired with Parker’s fiction. These moments are what the reader fishes for, in general: when a writer can bring a light to the reader’s own vision.
This vision is something I often hope to find in fiction, and I’m not used to being disappointed when I fish with such pickiness—an intentional search for language that asks me to do the legwork. Books like Liliane’s Balcony (others that come to mind are Katie Farris’s Boysgirls, Karel Čapek’s The Gardener’s Year, or the nonfiction of Lia Purpura) operate with a similar technique: they force me to add to my own reading experience. The image isn’t merely deposited in my mind, but I add to it through reflection or embellishment. Reading gets participatory here, in a way, asking that—like when reading poetry—I find moments of both sight and affirmation. If the stereotype holds true that poets write in images and prose writers in ideas, then Parker can be their bridge, forcing me to both see and think as I read.
“One question she has always pondered,” Parker writes:
if one is on the balcony, is one inside or outside? 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 [Liliane] is her room, its warm glow. The French doors are open and the light spills onto the stone patterned ground. The architect has been so clever at dissolving the boundaries of the two.
Moves like this exemplify work that gets readers thinking, more than only seeing, possibly straightening a spine and leaning forward into the prose.
In the chapter “FLLW” (a chapter that, like others here, has a repeated title), Parker gets at a bit of what’s above. She doesn’t cross genres, but she does display a self-awareness here. She may as well, for instance, ask what poetry does, then answer in a vignette:
Poetry, Poetic, Romantic, Ideal— The word “poetry” is a dangerous word to use, and for good reason. Carl Sandburg once said to me, “Why do you use the words ‘poetry,’ ‘beauty,’ ‘truth,’ or ‘ideal’ anymore? Why don’t you just get down to tacks and talk about boards and nails and barn doors?” Good advice. And I think that is what I should do. But I won’t, unless I can get an equivalent by doing so. The equivalent is exactly what I cannot get. Those words—romance, poetry, beauty, truth, ideas—are not precious words nor should they be specious words. They are elemental human symbols and we must be brought back again to respect for them by using them significantly if we use them at all, or go to jail.
I think this is actually bad advice. It’s an ultimatum not just for a character, but for the reader as well. Do we not respect these words—romance, poetry, beauty, truth, ideas—enough? And if we do respect them, then what would make them anything other than precious? The truth is that they are precious words, and the fact that we protect them the way we do is what slides us forward in our seats when we hear and read them; just like when we read prose that asks us either to affirm or deny it.
Preciousness is perhaps what Parker actually wants. She wants a story weighted by words—words we won’t discard or mistrust, with a fusion of ideas and language that can’t be ignored. If we indeed write the stories we want to read, with the words we know we need to hear, then she’s given us what she must be longing for: a story that more than falls at our feet. She’s given us a story that, like water, falls ever so timidly—so slow at the start, and then, all at once, in a rush.