The Briefcase By Rebecca Makkai

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Rebecca Makkai’s short story, “The Briefcase” embraces Hemingway’s self-described Iceberg Theory of writing. Bare and cold, “The Briefcase” is a story of omission; the structure deep beneath the surface of the printed word floating on a page. Makkai’s war time setting is like a treatise on life. The need to live find us drifting, grasping for self-definition. It matters who we are as individuals; to make sense of our lives. Makkai turns us upside down; our puffed up secure universe of self. War reveals our real self is only concerned about survival. Life is about surviving hard times. If you haven’t had hard times, keep living. The success of “The Briefcase” is based on a reader’s ability to forego detailed description for the thrill of feeling connected to a “…line of miserable monkeys chained at the wrist, dragging each other back into the ground.” As an heir of Hemingway, Makkai adopts his style of omission and develops “The Briefcase” into a tale of self. A self that does not need detailed character description; all of us want to survive. However, the self cannot rise above the monkeys and is chained; inextricably one to the other. Nameless. Faceless. Timeless. “The Briefcase” opens with Chef chained to emaciated captives. Starvation in prison threatens Chef’s survival, but frees the wrist; eacape. Only through Chef’s instinct to survive does Professor T become ensnared as a meaningless replacement for Chef: “…voices of children who barely filled the shoulders of their uniforms. One soldier, a bigger one, a louder one, stopped a man walking by. A man in a suit, with a briefcase, a beard—some sort of professor.” Survival drives Chef to collect the shirt, overcoat, and briefcase abandoned by Professor T. Su... ... middle of paper ... ...e in the post office lobby. He whispers to her: Let me go home with you. I’ll be a father to your son, and I’ll warm your bed, and I’ll keep you safe.” The offer is declined. Unwilling or unable to flee, Chef begins a set of mental calculations. Yet, in the end Chef convinces himself that his mind is his only way to survive this unfortunate set of circumstances. Deep into his mental theories, Chef schemes to survive: “He feels certain that somewhere down the line, someone will believe him.” Looking for a sympathetic monkey. Clearly, much more can be said of “The Briefcase” by Rebecca Makkai. A scholarly writer who knows how to use the Iceberg Theory well. The reader participates in the world of war and survival. Makkai is a revolutionary bringing us back to our base senses. The need to survive a world at war. The need to survive hard times in life.

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