DEAR VERSAILLES | Jasmin Kirkbride.
⇒The epistolary form is one of those time-honored storytelling modes that’s proven very effective in the hands of many different writers. What’s cool about epistolary storytelling is its versatility: it can express one person’s experience or those of many characters, it can operate at a variety of different registers, and it can reflect a variety of different technologies. Epistolary novels may have begun as traditional, handwritten “letters” but the form has since found expression through text messages, emails, serialized Twitter stories (?), internet message boards, and so on, representing both public and private forms of expression.
What’s cool and interesting about Jasmin Kirkbride’s epistolary short story “Dear Versailles,” published in the fall issue of Hark Magazine, is that it departs from most if not all contemporary epistolary stories by going back to the style and diction of 17th/18th century fiction. While contemporary narrators use a generally informal, modern diction, Ms. Kirkbride goes a different route, applying an ornately imagistic, deeply poetic voice to a contemporary character and situation. The effect is that this set of storytelling letters reads as aristocratic or classical though the situation itself takes place in contemporary times.
Our narrator/letter writer is Arianne. Over the space of several years, she writes a series of letters addressed only to “Versailles” (the town? the palace? or, as I read it, just a significant home within this town? is the confusion over which Versailles intentional? Perhaps). She writes
and goes on to explain through images, luminous memories, and other sensory details the significance of this place in her life, in her growing up. We get the sense, via this monologic string of letters, that this home (and the family matriarch who lived there) were what kept the writer’s extended family together.
There are some really splendid bits of prose throughout, lots of vivid organic details and telling gestures. It’s a very memory-driven piece, which is appropriate; architecture often serves as a conduit for memories (like songs, smells, tastes, objects). What’s really fascinating, now that I’m thinking about it, is the fact that this place, this house in Versailles, is not explicitly described, though the flowers and people and Christmas tree and other things peripheral to the structure are portrayed in some detail. So it’s like an architecture of inference, a blank space where a home should be. Which is appropriate, I suppose.
Go read this interesting piece. Get into its voice, its emotional ripples. This story is like an epic tragedy rendered in whispers.