The Orange Suitcase is a perfect title for this perfectly constructed book. The reader is packed up by author Joseph Riippi and whisked off on a journey, not through places but through lives–and through objects and connections gathered and treasured and sometimes broken in the duration.
The titles of the short pieces that make up the whole all start with “Something about…” and make it clear that what we are getting is not a long explanation, not an in-depth family history but a series of snapshots of a person, a life, a family. A suitcase full of postcards, delicious hints about where and when and how that combine to sketch a life in part. Somehow, the snapshot method brings the reader in deeper, closer. Riippi cleverly reveals just enough to make the book more a mirror than anything else. With the glimpses of details about the narrator and his own relationships, the objects accumulated and friends gathered and lost, we are forced to look inward–at who and how we’ve chosen and who and what we don’t choose, and what we’ve made of that.
There’s a lovely story, “Something about Marriage, Part 3,” that addresses that accumulation and what we do with it so perfectly, in the typically crisp, understated prose that populates The Orange Suitcase:
On our 50th anniversary she will give me an orange suitcase full of photographs. Pictures of our wedding, our first apartment, our first trip to Berlin. Thank you for the adventures, she will say, quoting from a movie we’ve both forgotten.
Even within the construct of the snapshots of his own life, the narrator has created his own series of snapshots and mentally placed them in the orange suitcase to keep and assemble when he wants to see what the shape of his life has become. We understand that these pictures are perfect and neat and easy. Our wedding, our trip to Berlin. These pictures come with themes. They contrast nicely with the snapshots the “Something about…” pieces form, which are not so neat and easy ; which indeed are messy and sometimes hard to pin down and sometimes about, say, a suitcase or a nail but are really about people, friends, family. Love and death. The objects, the subjects of the “Somethings,” merely serve as catalysts or springboards for the memories of a life in progress, backward and forward, imagined and real and full.