Short story: “Kaspar Hauser Speaks”

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“Kaspar Hauser Speaks,” by Steven Millhauser

First appeared in the spring 1998 issue of The Kenyon Review, volume XX, number two (order here); on JSTOR; collected in The Knife Thrower and Other Stories; mp3 reading here

A little over nine pages in my edition; not sure how many words

The more Millhauser I read, the more frustrated I get. He’s consistently good but only occasionally excellent. Most of his stories are on similar topics and employ similar tricks, and a knack for atmosphere and symbolism only goes so far. “Kaspar Hauser Speaks” reads like “Report to an Academy” with less depth and less mystery. Part of the power of “Report” comes from Rotpeter’s refusal to be explicit about his self-loathing; instead, he dwells obsessively on finding “a way out,” and it gradually becomes clear to the reader that finding a way out means trading his integrity for a lonely, troubled life. In this story, Kaspar Hauser’s desire to disappear is the explicit climactic reveal. I like how it cleverly echoes the life of the historical Kaspar Hauser, but it doesn’t come off as chilling or profound. Maybe if I knew more of the history I would appreciate it more.