The Lost Suitcase

The Lost Suitcase: Reflections on the Literary Life by Nicholas Delbanco is a collection of eight essays, with an eponymous novella in the middle. Delbanco's essays contain insightful personal reflections and lessons from his experience as both a writer and a teacher. The novella is unlike anything I've read before, a fictional experiment where the author takes the reader through several alternate scenarios and character interpretations. 

The story follows Ernest Hemingway's fictionalized first wife, AnneLise (Hadley) losing a suitcase containing all of his life's work on a train journey from Paris to Switzerland (based on real events). In the first scenario, AnneLise is a naive and absentminded young bridge who forgets to keep her eyes on the suitcase and runs to his embrace for forgiveness. In another, she purposely abandons the suitcase with the "unclaimed and unwanted" items at the station as revenge for his relentless infidelity. In my favorite version, she is both his teacher and muse, opening the suitcase out of boredom and curiosity in her train car. After reading the disappointing drafts, she contemplates discarding the suitcase to force him to start from scratch without confrontation. Instead, she delivers the suitcase to him and asks him never to publish any of it. He "yields" and together they come up with a stolen suitcase story. He hides it out of sight until many years later, alone, he opens that memory. Their relationships is ripped apart in all versions, the contents of the suitcase being the substance of their marriage. 

 

But this story of theirs is remembered; this object feels totemic and when he returns to it, as AnneLise predicted, not after her death but the death of their marriage, not in twenty or in thirty years but forty years thereafter, when he opens it once more the wind that coursed through the cedars down the mountain and then through the bedroom in Schrunz comes gusting out replete with that most private grief, the past.

 

An interesting fact I discovered while reading this book, the contents of the suitcase were actually published in Hemingway's A Moveable Feast memoir after his death.


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