Swoon. Sigh. Let me dust my cheek with my handkerchief and lean my palm against my chin. My elbow against this balcony. My eyes against the green stems of the Gardens of Kyoto. If you can picture this, my bottom lip is out, plush, my hair huffed up with each breath. This story was a doozy, it makes me want to be a romantic in a dainty cloth dress. The Gardens of Kyoto spans years of wars, men going insane, or sad. It spans gardens, Philadelphia, dark slave rooms filled with walls of scratched numbers, mansions, and sisters. How can you span sisters without spanning generations, without explaining they’re like their mother or their father. You read Gardens of Kyoto and you see sisters, their span of lives, their similarities and differences. I love the confusion of sisters, the “why does she do it this way when it’s so clear our duty is this.”
This is a sad book. Nobody is happy in the end, well Daphne, but Daphne is such a flower name that you can’t make her outcomes ugly. (NOBODY WON THE PULITZER IN FICTION).
*EXCUSE ME WHILE I RANT AND THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE DISAGREE WITH MY OPINION: The reason no one won the Pulitzer this year, in my humble blogging opinion, is that the art of fiction in America needs to do better. We are in an age where people are selling e-books and e-stories for pennies and people are self-publishing due to various reasons (some that they can’t find a publisher who will take their story). Let’s not forget Harry Potter was discarded by numerous publisher’s before a humble small publishing house finally accepted it for publication. We need to remember it isn’t always in the name. All of the people up for Pulitzer’s this year had made a name in contemporary fiction. Does a name mean that the book you published, the trees you killed for that paper, were worth it? We just need to ask ourselves this before we publish our books. If I’m going to buy a hardcover, I expect that the book is as good as its binding.
I’m not saying any of the books up for this years Pulitzer Prize were bad (I haven’t read them), I’m just saying that maybe it’s a sign for American fiction. We need to stay true to our spirit. Just because a book is outlandish, does not mean it’s wonderful. Just because your last name is Wallace, does not mean everything you write will turn to gold. I do love some Denis Johnson though, he gets me every time. I will read this new novella even though it was not awarded.
I hope the publishing world starts looking for writers in the humblest of places. We all have a story, but we don’t all want to write it down. Do you trust publishing houses to tell you what’s wonderful in fiction? Or do you ever wonder if something great is out there that you’ll never read because it’s been turned down too many times, and the writer is now stuffing it into a drawer, folding a twine string around the parchment, or leaving it to collect dust, for their children to find after their death. I wonder…I often wonder.
Thank you, Pulitzer committee for making us scared again. What is writing if not fear? Fear that we won’t have time to tell our stories. Fear that these characters will die and disappear. Fear that the people won’t love you, that the words won’t be beautifully strung together like a back home Christmas wreath on your dying mother’s door. Fear is what writing is. Be memorable.
Gardens of Kyoto is a lovely book if you don’t mind being unhappy for a few days. The words are beautiful, Kate Walbert has a way of saying something with a choir of bodies that makes you want to scream, bury your face in a pillow and shove the book into the sleeve of the pillow case to dream about later. I’m especially bias about this book because I have this sick fantasy about being a girl someone writes letters home too. I think I was meant to be born in the thirty’s, when my father was born. I was meant to feel a sliver of the depression and then send someone off into the clutches of battlefields, dead trees, winter.
Maybe that’s why I especially love books written from the narration of war widows, or war girlfriends, girls who’ve been pinned and are always waiting. I have this ideal of running down the dust road to the mail box, missing the pot holes slick with mud from yesterday’s rain. And while Ellen doesn’t ever get to do this, she does have men who belong to her, but belong more to the war. Men who gave her a small piece of themselves, but took the rest to be closed and trampled.
I think that’s the thing I loved most of the book, the small pieces of human. Every character gave Ellen a small bit of themselves. Her child, who she writes too, gave her the smell of fresh skin, of babies, a murmur. Her cousin Randall, gave her a goodbye – his hands pressed to the round parts of her face. Her mother gave her nothing but quiet, to mourn. Sterling gave her a view of history. Everyone gave her something of themselves, something of history. Isn’t that the way though, we will never truly know someone because we won’t know their thoughts.
In my head, I talk in a southern accent. I have to be careful it doesn’t come out in my real life but I like to decorate the words, round them, drawl out my conversations with myself. It’s strange the way we have these small secrets with ourselves. It must be the reason our imagination is at its best in the night, just before sleep, when we are the most ourself – the most alone with these bodies.
Clearly, mine is a body lying in the sweat of the South. And yours…