Nicole Krauss, author of Great House, The History of Love, and Man Walks into a Room, as well as many short stories, read an unpublished story at Luminato this week, entitled “A garden is an arrangement of light.” It was a special event, introduced by the visibly excited artistic director of Luminato, Jorn Weisbrodt, and attended by his fiancé Rufus Wainwright, both friends of Krauss’s. Her reading was accompanied by a projection of three David Hockney paintings onto the cinema screen at the Lightbox Theatre, from his A Bigger Picture exhibit currently on at the Guggenheim Bilbao.
“A garden is an arrangement of light” is a phrase refrained during the short story, told from the point of view of the personal assistant to a landscape architect in a South American city under military junta rule. Krauss introduced the story, which she said she’d been editing right up until she got to the lectern (and she still had a pen in hand), as “really a story, perhaps, about acquiescence.” The narrator looks back at a life lived in service of the landscape architect and his art, as well as nature, and how that life was clouded by complicity in, or acquiescence to, the violence of the ruling party. Paradise and its workers become tainted, and the sacred is profaned. Krauss based the story partly on a trip to Brazil and the gardens of the modernist Roberto Burle Marx, who she says introduced the sensible notion of using native fauna instead of English imports in landscape architecture.
The story is hushed (a feeling augmented by Krauss’ measured style of reading), and the violence, of the military and of Nature herself, is alluded to but never depicted, heightening the sense of menace. It’s a beautiful story.
In a discussion with CBC’s The Signal host Laurie Brown, technology-bashing was all the rage, as with Annie Proulx’s talk. Krauss pointed out that “people are having a hard time with books that demand something of them, as all good books do,” later saying that if people find her work complicated or difficult “I never, ever want to obfuscate something, or lose a reader, or challenge her for no reason.”
When the audience had their turn with questions, a woman asked her about a moment in the story where the narrator is in the observational copula atop Florence’s famous domed cathedral, looking down at the now-old landscape architect, contemplating leaving him for a new life. “Do people always think about leaving everyone they know at some point?” asked the young woman, sounding a bit desperate. Kraus had a brave answer: “The great thing about being a writer- and a reader, frankly- is you escape that finitude, because you live more lives than you have.”
Kasia Mychajlowycz is a journalist; find her online portfolio and blog at Archive Kasia.