Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Book Review - Songs Without Words by Kurt Shauppner

Songs Without Words by Kurt Schauppner

Reviewed by Greg Gilbert

    Kurt Schauppner’s Songs Without Words is a collection of seven short stories and as many separate prose paragraphs. I thought the title an interesting choice considering that the book is a songless collection of words. A little digging reveals that Felix Mendelssohn composed eight volumes under the same title in the early-to-mid 1800’s, each volume containing six romantic and lyrical piano works. Schauppner’s foreword to his own work says that the stories are told without speaking, that “they are there and are not,” and they “are our loss and our failure to love.” One may ask, where’s the lyrical and wordless romance inferred by the title?

     To begin, romanticism in art and literature focuses on individuals who discover inspiration through their personal perspectives, and such is the central thread that connects Schauppner’s seven stories. Germane to the romantic mode is the esthetic and intuitive experience, often involving loss, a dark winged presence on the periphery or the absence of a loved one. Again, one may recall that Mendelssohn, a favorite of Goethe, was a gifted composer and director who died at age 38 and that his older sister by four years, Fanny, arguably his superior at the piano, died the same year. In referring to Mendelssohn, romanticism, and his sibling relationship and loss, the character of Schauppner’s stories find a consistent tone and theme, a world on the brink of being discovered and lost.

     As to the suggestion that the stories are told without speaking, the author employs a third person narrative style throughout, and while characters may comment, the quotation mark is never employed. Readers witness the stories from a slight distance, even while viewing the interior lives of characters. Each story employs a dreamlike use of magical realism where characters negotiate various dreamscapes and alternate realities in worlds where diseases test the resiliency of plans and even the survival of a social order. Characters occupy multiple lives and often view their journeys from a mythlike distance. People suffer and are helped only to help those who suffer. Asylums and hospitals and dreamscapes enter and depart as though they are characters in a larger story. Roads lead into distant existential wildernesses and the promises of lush mountainous realms. But always, there is the searcher, the explorer, the perennial student in a world that is disintegrating and reforming at the edges.

     As with the product of any small, overworked publisher, Songs Without Words would have benefitted from closer editing, but that doesn’t prevent me from recommending this collection. The stories are thought provoking and lead the reader into a mythological consideration of our world today. In many respects, this is a wise book that leaves us to consider our own untold stories, our losses, and loves. Its magic lingers after the book is closed.

Click here to purchase on-line ($6)

Also by Kurt Schauppner:

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Greg Gilbert is the author of Afflatus.

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