From the Umberplatzen
 by Susan Tepper

Wilderness House Press
2012
Paperback







"You have no stars left, he said.  When we met you were all stars.  They have fizzled and fallen to earth, I said. "


Reviewed by Alex Thornber

Fiction is a strange form. Aside from the basics of words on a page, it can feasibly be anything at all. In her latest book Susan Tepper successfully twists and turns her words on these pages into something that could be a novel or short stories, while being both and neither at the same time. What is unquestionable, however, is that From The Umberplatzen is a love story.

In this book, as delightful to hold as it is to read, Tepper provides the reader with an alternative form of narrative to those usually found in love stories. She shows us the highlights and low points of a relationship, laid down in a most minimalistic fashion; something Tepper knows how to use perfectly to her advantage. In her two previous books Deer and Other Stories and What May Have Been she used information sparingly; like breadcrumbs, she provides just enough to get you to the end of the story, leaving out everything that could distract you from the path of what she wants to show.

Much in the same way, From The Umberplatzen is a novel compressed into forty-eight flash fiction fragments that together build the purest essence of a relationship. All the conversations, arguments and events that shape the characters, and their love, are highlighted without the need for back story or long passages linking each scene. The result is a startlingly honest love story unlike anything else, which merges fiction, poetry and memory.

From the Umberplatzen is told through the
present day reminiscences of the narrator known as Kitty Kat, sparked off by packages her former partner M. sends in the post each day. This is a tremendous mode of narrative that Tepper uses to jump about in the relationship at random with great affect while successfully avoiding being frantic. It reads exactly like how we all reflect on old relationships, dwelling on the moments that took hold of us at the time and have refused to let go; looking for clues as to what went wrong, or answers about ourselves.

The couples' love story is mostly conducted in and around a park full of strees they have called Umberplatzen. The couple seem to have a luxuriously laid back existence, full of drinking in cafés, planning trips abroad, flying kites and spending endless days under their beloved Umberplatzen. These trees are present in each of these stories, as the couple's retreat, their home, the place they feel at ease and their obsession; they love the trees as much as they love each other and the Umberplatzen are as much a part of the relationship as Kitty Kat and M.

Throughout the book M. comes across as the care free, impulsive and even slightly childish one while we sense that Kitty Kat wants to be all these things but is unable to allow herself to. The conflict of who she is and who she wishes she could be is something that fuels the adventures, arguments and intimacy that underpins this novel. Like life, this internal unrest in Kitty Kat is the wobbly table under the house of cards that is their relationship; as a result it is not long before they find little things to argue about. Whether it is M.'s myriad kites clogging up his flat, Kitty Kat's inability to properly take communion or a random marriage proposal, it all seems to come from the innate differences between the two of them.

From The Umberplatzen is a wonderful book, full of tenderness and beauty and one of the most honest portrayals of love in modern literature.

Read a story by this author on Fictionaut


Alex Thornber writes short stories, some of which have been published in places like Metazen, Wilderness House Literary Review and Specter Magazine. He is currently working on a collection of his stories and a novella.
Alex's other Short Reviews: "The Collected Stories of John Cheever"

A J Kirby "Mix Tape"

Susan Tepper "Deer and Other Stories"

Darlin' Neal "Rattlesnakes & The Moon"

Tantra Bensko "Watching the Windows Sleep"

James Franco "Palo Alto"

D E Fredd "Dutch Treatment"

Ken Kalfus "Three Stories"
                     
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Susan Tepper grew up on Long Island. Her previous books What May Have Been: Letters of Jackson Pollock & Dori G and Deer & Other Stories are set on or tied to Long Island. Before settling down to study writing, Tepper was an actor, flight attendant, marketing manager, tour guide, singer, television producer, interior decorator, rescue worker and more.

Read an interview with Susan Tepper