The Orange Suitcase
by Joseph Riippi
THE ORANGE SUITCASE is subtitled as ‘Stories by Joseph Riippi’, but this recent title from Ampersand Books resists that branding at every turn. The Orange Suitcase is more like a novella really, though even that simple classification doesn’t pin down Riippi’s book, whose slippery stories seem bent on escaping genre, tending sometimes towards poetry, sometimes towards memoir, and still at other times towards flash fiction, creating a fresh kind of cumulative narrative:
from ‘Something About A Nail’:
When I was maybe ten or eleven years old my grandfather hammered a nail into a tree with his bare hand. My cousins will tell you it didn’t happen, but we called his bluff, we didn’t believe him when he said that, as a carpenter in Tacoma after the war, he’d never used a hammer. He boasted: My hands are like the Finns. My hands are stronger than Russian tanks. And then he did it, right there in front of us. He held a three-inch nail against the cedar tree and swung his gigantic frame, no hesitation. When he pulled away that nail stayed sticking out, a monument, humongous, gray and wet, with a piece of skin as its rainy flag.
The Orange Suitcase finds its main strength not in language that we’ve never seen before but in an innovative structure that suggests or implies plot rather than freely giving it out. Riippi works the small segments of this book as snowballing moments, asking us to create a story from his stories. And while this is not entirely unheard of, Michael Kimball’s Us is a prime example of this same type of process, this is nonetheless a relatively new approach in the writing world and Riippi works it well here, mixing styles and genres enough to keep the book fast, running wild on semi-memoir legs:
from ‘Something About Rings’:
A couple sits at a table across the room. I peer over my book to watch their quiet fight. They rest silent and full of hard gestures—steel hands and eyes. ‘You’re a bastard,’ says the tattooed arm. ‘Fuck yourself,’ say the jeweled fingers, clinking teacups. Quiet fights are quite ordinary. Split a relationship to see its odd rings. I settle the novel and turn to watch. They are fine, they are in the midst of love, when sucking tells less than a touch, when indifference tells more than a fuck.
At times Riippi’s attempt to create realism forces the language towards cliché or overly simplistic phrasing, but this is an understandable slight and is forgivable in a book like The Orange Suitcase. Some readers too may be turned off by the meta-fiction bent that creeps into the second half in particular, but the poetic moments that follow or precede these authorial interjections are usually enough to bring us back to loving the book and reveling in its genre-less skin:
from ‘Something About Marriage, Pt 3’:
On our 50th anniversary she will give me an orange suitcase full of photographs. Pictures of our weeding, our fisrt apartment, our first trip to Berlin. Thank you for the adventures, she will say, quoting from a movie we’ll both have forgotten.
Some of the photographs we won’t recognize. Who was that? she’ll ask. I think that was Jensen, I’ll say. It was? I think so. See the red gloves?
When we die, we will be buried with the suitcase between us. We were the only ones with the right idea. The only ones who knew it all. It was easy, but no one else knew it. All our passwords were our birthdays.
The Orange Suitcase, no matter what label you want to give it, is an interesting, quick read that makes great use of the unsaid, that lets suggestion lead, that implies instead of pushing at the reader – and hail to Joseph Riippi for creating a book that does it so artfully.
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