A lock of hair from a carousel horse, a velvety shamrock drink coaster, a purple feather boa—presents From the Umberplatzen.
My first reaction to Susan Tepper’s tour de force is a personal one. I know Susan Tepper. I know Marcus Speh, to whom the work is dedicated. I know Germany; I live there. It was easy for me to cuddle up to the idea of the Umberplatzen, a word Tepper conjures from her psyche to describe perfectly the sense of place her characters share. Only Kitty Kat and M can know what it means, but we can speculate. I would translate Umberplatzen as a shaded, arboreal place and the feelings that provide the shade—especially for Kitty Kat.
My second response to the story is from the writer in myself. The tone is consistent, pleasing and sad. Tepper knows what she’s doing as a writer of existential literature: she does not attempt to explain or resolve the relationship between her characters. The memories simply exist, and in the end we’re left with Kitty Kat’s ambivalence. What May Have Been, which Tepper co-authored with Gary Percesepe, is in many ways a similar work. In both stories, Tepper—and Percesepe in What May Have Been—uses physical distance to construct the narrative. Both stories slice deeply and deftly into the relationships between men and women. (Interestingly, Tepper inhabits the male consciousness in What May Have Been and of course the female in From the Umberplatzen.)
As an editor, I appreciate Tepper’s use of mnemonics to provide a framework for the narrative, making From the Umberplatzen—if you’ll forgive the pun—a memorable read. Tepper skillfully uses embedded dialogue filtered through the consciousness of Kitty Kat to represent the remembered conversations between Tepper’s narrator and M.
After the Umberplatzen, Tepper’s strongest leitmotif is M’s kite collection. Kitty Kat is bound to M like one of his kites. (And of course Kitty Kat is hardly an inconspicuous approximation of the word kite.) From the first of the 48 micros that make up From the Umberplatzen, the reader knows that distance has changed—yet somehow not ended—Kitty Kat’s relationship with M. He still controls her present with presents sent through the mail to remind her of their story together—as if Kitty Kat is still on his string.
Their story is a classic masculine/feminine struggle—as heterosexual love stories often are. Rules vs. Passion. Domination vs. Accommodation. Push vs Pull. The Umberplatzen—the trees and the place—might be neutral ground where Kitty Kat and M are on the same team. That said, the Umberplatzen mean more to Kitty Kat than they do to M. She always comes back to this safe place as she recounts their moments, but I have the feeling she often has to beg M to go there. Near the end of the story, Kitty Kat wants to go to the rainforest (symbolically a shadier, more protected place than the Umberplatzen), but M resists with sarcasm. Ultimately—and now we come back to my personal reaction to the text—Kitty Kat and M.’s story is a love story to which I can relate.
From the Umberplatzen (50 pages) is available from Amazon.com.