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