“Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” Kelly Link

“Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose,” by Kelly Link
From, Stranger Things Happen (2001)
Rating 5/5

Read Online / Buy Online

In “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose,” a man writes letters from the afterlife to his wife. He tries to remember her name, or any connections he had to the world of the living, but all he can think of is the names of people and things that he knows are dead. He thinks of how if he could just remember her name his situation might improve. In his letters, he confesses, not only the things that he has done wrong to his wife, but also to the love that he feels for her, and to other things that he has done in life that have made him feel guilty. All the while, he explores the place that he is trapped. The story is an interesting examination of place, guilt, memory, and self-discovery.

When I was younger I used to love reading anything epistolary, but, especially in adult fiction, you do not see much. In “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose,” however, Link uses the form to its full advantage. Reading this story is an exercise in discovery, not only for the reader, but for the narrator as well as he tries to reason out what is left of him as a person. Link manipulates the form to give herself plenty of room to build up the world around the story. This gives readers a chance not only to discover the world around the narrative character, but it also gives them a chance to flesh out the protagonist in a more intimate way. While this certainly isn’t on the epistolary novels that I enjoyed as a child, it does make exciting use of the form that is well worth checking out.

This story is fraught with emotional tension and a sense of unknowing that makes for a macabre read. The monster at the heart of this story is guilt, but the protagonist cannot face his guilt directly because he cannot put a name to it. Yet, through his letters to his wife he is still able to explore aspects of it as fleeting glimpses. This gives the story forward motion from start to finish and allows it to maintain a high level of intrigue while also taking topics that have become rather commonplace in literature—infidelity, death, bullying—and presenting them in a way that feels completely new and fresh. 

If you’re looking for a horror story where the monster is self, then this story is for you. If you want a study on the afterlife, this story is for you. If you’re looking for an impeccably crafted and compelling tale, this story is for you. 

BONUS: Listen to “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose,” on Pseudopod (read by Ansom Mount)

Like cheese and wine, art can be best when consumed together. Why not try “The Dream,” by Bourbon Princess with this post.

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