Monday, August 28, 2023

Books: "Terrace Story" By Hilary Leichter


Terrace Story

By Hilary Leichter

Ecco; hardcover, 240 pages; $27.99; available today, Tuesday, August 29th

Hilary Leichter is the author of Temporary, was was honored as a finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the NYPL Young Lions Fiction Award, and was long-listed for the PEN/Hemingway Award. She teaches at Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn. Her writing has been featured in Harper's Magazine, the New Yorker, and the New York Times.

Terrace Story is an outgrowth of a story Leichter wrote for Harper's that won a National Magazine Award, and it asks how we nurture love when death is looming at every moment. While it meditates on loss, it is a map for where to go next.

Annie, Edward, and their young daughter, Rose, live in a cramped apartment, and one night, without warning, they encounter a beautiful terrace hidden in their closet. It wasn't there before, but seems to only appear when their friend Stephanie visits. The terrace looks as if it was out of a catalog, as there was a table and four chairs, a grill, and an umbrella that looked rather expensive, as if they were just purchased or even invented.

This is a city-dweller's dream come true, but every bit of space has a hidden cost to it, and the terrace sets in motion a seismic chain of events. They forever change the shape of their tine home, and the shape of the world around them.

The richly-detailed story follows the family of three that suffers the repercussions, as their future is now deeply uncertain, as well as those who orbit their fragile universe. The distance and love these characters have for each other expands without limits, across generations.

This provokes questions such as how far the mind can travel when it's looking for something that is gone and where do we put our loneliness, longing, and desire. There also are thoughts of where do people put the emotions that seem to stretch beyond the body, beyond the boundaries of life and death.

In this excerpt, Annie and Edward discover their new home: "The old window gave a grand view of Yellow Tree, trunk to branch. They called it Yellow Tree even though the gingko was yellow for only about a week each year, its fan-shaped leaves rushing to the ground at the first suggestion of a breeze. Annie and Edward held the baby to the window and said, 'See? Yellow!' But she was too small to say 'yellow' in response. She just looked and watched and touched the glass. They wiped her fingerprints from the window and kissed the fingers that made the prints. Then the leaves fell, and the scenery changed. Some views show less than half of what needs seeing.

When the rent became unpayable, they went in search of a more affordable living situation. What's your living situation? Annie turned the phrase over in her mind, the situation of their life. They had not saved nearly enough for a broker's fee, let alone a security deposit.

'It looks smaller than it really is,' Edward said, leading Annie around the new apartment. A dimly lit lopsided square. 'Give it some time, it might grow on you!'

'You mean it might literally grow?' Annie asked.

At the new apartment, there were no views of Yellow Tree. The introverted  windows were gated and clasped and huddled around a central shaft that Edward dubbed Pigeon Tunnel. Edward and Annie liked inventing proper nouns for their world. Yellow Tree, Pigeon Tunnel, Closet Mystery. Closet Mystery was Annie's term for the mystery of their single, overstuffed closet. Upon opening, what would catapult forth? It was a bona fide enigma. Edward and Annie picked a proper noun for their baby too. Her noun was Rose.

Annie strapped Rose to her chest while she unpacked, stuffing diapers and deconstructed boxes into Closet Mystery, keeping an arm around her, holding tight, in case the fabric of the sling happened to unfurl like a scarf in a gust of wind, loosing the baby onto the ground.

'Careful,' she said to no one but herself.

Someday, Edward said, they would have a bit of outdoors all their own. A square of glass for playtime, a pot for planting herbs. They had said that at their last apartment too, and at the apartment before that, and they continued to say it even still, though perhaps with less conviction. They were cramped, Edward said, but in a way that felt familiar and warm, no? Yes, Annie agreed. Secretly, she felt that their lack of space probably signaled her lack of promise, a final judgment on her poor priorities and half-hewn choices. But it was a judgment that, in her deepest heart, had grown commonplace and comfortable, only jabbing its elbow of discontent at moments that found her particularly low. They were lucky in so many ways. They were healthy and happy and fine. They had spent every penny saved on moving in and moving out, even the coins from under the sink. Now there was a new sink, and an empty jar for fresh, shiny coins."

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