The Orange Suitcase
by Joseph Riippi
Ampersand Books, 2011
92 pages / $14.95 Buy from Ampersand Books
Memories prop us up like skeletons. Each one exists autonomously, with its own root and biology, but put them together and you’ve got an emotional skeleton, something that helps shape who we are and the way we interact with the world around us. Over the course of the 34 short stories that fill The Orange Suitcase, author Joseph Riippi shines an x-ray on himself and examines a series of bone-like memories that are brief reflections on the formative experiences that make up his own skeleton.
Riippi, though, wavers in the way he engages these memories. In some stories, like “Something About Drinking In Baton Rouge,” Riippi merely serves as a reporter, chronicling the facts of what happens when a writer and a poet, both with substance abuse issues, are forced to share a motel room. For this, Riippi is judiciously dry, and allows the inherent comic tension of the scene to play without much authorial intervention.
With other stories he steps outside the memory and asks it questions, giving the narrative a feeling of immediate and visceral recollection. In “Something About A Finger” he describes a former girlfriend who once broke the ring finger on her left hand. It healed incorrectly and is now permanently crossed over her pinky. Riippi then proceeds to ask, as many people might, how this girl gets on with her broken finger. How will she get a wedding ring on that thing?
Riippi’s memory narratives jump all over the place from childhood to recent life in New York City. And while some characters, like the beautiful bartender in both “Something About A Valentine’s Day” and “Something About Ipek (On A Valentine’s Day),” have recurring roles in Riippi’s book, his stories are not explicitly connected to one another. As a result, the reader is left with a feeling of incompleteness, and a nagging reminder that these stories lack the connective tissue to turn these pristine white bones into a fully formed skeleton.