“…No More a Boy than a Fish with Wings.” – Kate Walbert

The Gardens of Kyoto - Kate Walbert

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).

The Pulitzer

*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.

Southern Belle

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…

18 thoughts on ““…No More a Boy than a Fish with Wings.” – Kate Walbert

  1. Amanda says:

    I have to say, I love your rant, for mostly the same reasons. I have a violent hatred of any book that is even so much as NOMINATED for a snooty award because it will be, hands down, the most mind-and-butt numbing book I will have attempted in some time (I make exceptions for books written by Luis J Rodriguez, but that’s it). To me, no one winning the Pulitzer tells me that FINALLY someone is saying, I could give two shits if your name is Franzen, or Patchett, or Eugenides (I also have a violent hatred of anything written by Eugenides, despite the fact I loved his first novel). If you consistently write overburdened prose and don’t tell me a frickin’ STORY, I will die. Not literally, but a tiny piece of me will die.

    The publishing world is getting a little better…but I also think there are far too many scaredy-cats out there. If you’re going to be a writer, you’ve got to toughen up. If we had more writers who were willing to put themselves out there, I feel like we might start to see a difference in the choices of books we have for our perusal. It would be wider, more varied, and yes, you’ll see more stuff that shouldn’t see the light of day, but you’ve got to take a few bad apples along with your full bushel.

    • Cassie says:

      It seems great minds think alike my dear. I completely agree, publishers just need to take chances on things that aren’t written by someone with a “name.” It’s like the Occupy movement of writing – the newbies v. the people who have been writing and publishing good, bad and ugly forever.

  2. avian101 says:

    As always I get more substance from your rant than the book passages that you are reviewing. You have a super ability for blending fact and fiction in a way that everything you say becomes acceptable as our reality and then morphs as something possible just like it happens in our dreams!
    You owe me a reply to my email. Thanks C. Kudos! :)

    • Cassie says:

      You always make me feel like what I say matters, haha. So, thank you. I replied yesterday. I’ll have to send it again to make sure you got it.

  3. Let's CUT the Crap! says:

    The Garden of Kyoto sounds like a wonderful read.

    Too bad about the Pulitzer. That’s the most outrageous situation. Who would have thought it could ever come to something like this. A crying shame.

  4. Frankie says:

    This sounds like a great book. I’ll definitely check it out. I didn’t hear about the Pulitzer until I read your post, so I’m really glad you ranted. :)

    • Cassie says:

      Oh my gosh, twitter was blowing up with Pulitzer hate so I had no choice but to know. I am glad to pass on the news in more tan 140 characters though. Thanks for visiting. :) Let me know if you read the book and like it!

  5. haileyjw says:

    Great post! I’m also a little concerned about the state of North American literature with Pulitzers decision to withhold the award for fiction this year. I hope the field of fiction stays strong, and takes this as a challenge, a swift kick in the behind to get the creative juices flowing so to speak. :)

  6. barefoot_med_student says:

    Wow. When you review the book in question it almost feels as if you are writing a novel, I love it! I recently read a book set in Malaysia and also spanning quite a timespan and a war (the Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng) and loved it. And it also refers to Japanese gardens.
    I am definitely going to look for this book.

    As for your rant, I don’t have anything to add to it, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.

  7. cookiejarprincess says:

    “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.”


    And once again, amazing review. I have added this book to my to-read because Cassie reviewed it list. Okay, I’m kidding. I don’t have a to-read list specifically for books you review. But I think I need one. lol

    • Cassie says:

      Haha that makes me nervous! I need to make sure I review books that are with it then.

      Your gravatar image is my favorite. I thought it was bread for a while, wonder bread but its a tree with blonde wig which is awesome.

      Ps. Read any good books lately? I need my own pile.

      • cookiejarprincess says:

        Go to youtube and search Ren and Stimpy It’s log and you’ll see where my gravatar came from. You’re too young to have seen it when it was on tv I think. lol I’ve been crafting for the past several days so I haven’t read anything since I finished Push but I’m getting ready to start In Cold Blood by Truman Capote for my Classics challenge and as the letter I in my April challenge.

      • Cassie says:

        Wow, I haven’t read either of those. I live in fear of the Classics. I think it is from those times in school when I was forced to read them.

        Funny thing is, my brother introduced me to Ren and Stimpy when I was five. He has them all on vhs. He was sixteen when I was born so I got to grow up with the things he loved when he babysit. I still sing the happy song to myself when I’m having a bad day. Maybe subconciously I knew that about your picture :)

  8. Ryan says:

    I couldn’t agree more about your rant. I worked in the publishing industry for a few years back in my salad days. The industry is obsessed with name value. It’s pathological.

    • Cassie says:

      Well now I’ve heard it from the source and I don’t have to just imagine it.

      I just wish everyone had to go through the same process to publish a book. Maybe they should read anonymous manuscripts so they pick the ones that truly speak to them.


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