A novel told in verse? This type of thing usually makes me want to claw my eyes out. I'm a serious skeptic: Is this a gimmick? Pretentious? A plea for attention? Normally, I'd say yes, but Rakoff is amazingly magical here. The story of several folks who are loosely connected, these short pieces have the feeling of pulling back a curtain in order to sneak a peek into someone else's (sometimes intensely) private moments. The verse form itself requires an unyielding, unforgiving adherence to language, structure, and syntax, which Rakoff skates through with remarkable insight (and a sly nod to Jerome Kern here and there!). It is both hilarious and heartbreaking, and unbelievably — to this curmudgeon — this tiny book is perfection. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
From the incomparable David Rakoff, a poignant, beautiful, witty, and wise novel in verse whose scope spans the twentieth century.
Through his books and his radio essays for NPR's This American Life, David Rakoff has built a deserved reputation as one of the finest and funniest essayists of our time. Written with humor, sympathy, and tenderness, this intricately woven novel proves him to be the master of an altogether different art form.
Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish leaps cities and decades as Rakoff sings the song of an America whose freedoms can be intoxicating, or brutal.
The characters' lives are linked to each other by acts of generosity or cruelty. A daughter of Irish slaughterhouse workers in early-twentieth-century Chicago faces a desperate choice; a hobo offers an unexpected refuge on the rails during the Great Depression; a vivacious aunt provides her clever nephew a path out of the crushed dream of postwar Southern California; an office girl endures the casually vicious sexism of 1950s Manhattan; the young man from Southern California revels in the electrifying sexual and artistic openness of 1960s San Francisco, then later tends to dying friends and lovers as the AIDS pandemic devastates the community he cherishes; a love triangle reveals the empty materialism of the Reagan years; a marriage crumbles under the distinction between self-actualization and humanity; as the new century opens, a man who has lost his way finds a measure of peace in a photograph he discovers in an old box — an image of pure and simple joy that unites the themes of this brilliantly conceived work.
Rakoff's insistence on beauty and the necessity of kindness in a selfish world raises the novel far above mere satire. A critic once called Rakoff "magnificent," a word that perfectly describes this wonderful novel in verse.
"Mesmerizing....Combines his wit and his gravity....Astounding." Publishers Weekly
"A fitting memorial to a humorist whose embrace of life encompassed its dark side...[the book] retains a spirit of sweetness and light, even as mortality and inhumanity provide a subtext....Strong work. It deepens the impact that this was the last book completed by the author." Kirkus Reviews
"Suffused with joyful invention. Readers may come to the book to pay their respects, but they will leave rejuvenated by the splendor of the warmth and wordplay. Composed a hand-span's distance from death, it feels death-defying...irrepressibly funny, and even strangely uplifting, in jubilant verse....If this book must serve as his memorial, it's at least as life-affirming as any that a writer has left behind"
Wall Street Journal
"Beautiful and heartbreaking...delightful...hilarious and lewd and shot through with a longing for life"
New York Times
"The literary rhythm captures the steady momentum of American progress...poignant...beautiful and melancholy...with a final image that made my eyes well up...funny and heartbreaking and, like Rakoff himself, not easy to forget"
"Ingenius, delicately haunting...probing, poignant, and wickedly funny...illuminate[s] the many stages of life"
"Reading the new novel in verse by David Rakoff, you can hear his voice again, wordy, so witty, a little worried, and always wise....His mordant humor, his compassionate vision, his moral questioning, his sharp honesty, they're all intimately wedded to the meter and the zestful diction of the book....But the new direction he takes in Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish brings out the best in him, too, as he fits his voice into a tighter form without ever becoming a slave to that form. He is as vital, as blackly comic, as bursting forth with detail, as vernacular, and as poignant in metered verse as he is in his effortlessly long prose sentences. Each couplet here equally serves the structural rules, the story, and Rakoff's matchless sensibility....The narrative is ambitious and has sweep....Agile, vivid, and entertaining"
"Even at six vivid verbs, the title doesn't do justice to the breadth of this short, acrid, elusive, entrancing book."
"Inspired...accessible, delightful...powerful...alluringly designed by Chip Kidd and illustrated by the cartoonist Seth, is filled with the sly, sharp social commentary that made Rakoff such a favorite....What shines through in this novel, even more than in his nonfiction, is a piercing, wistful appreciation for life, love and art...deserves to become a classic...a rare bird: moving, amusing, lilting, crushing."
Heller McAlpin, NPR
"I just marveled at his words....What he's created in this book is Seussian."
"A novel in rhyming couplets narrated in iambic tetrameter? Why not?...Along the way, you can have a lot of fun, no matter how serious the subject — family, sometimes alienating, sometimes consoling — because of the rhymes. Rakoff makes such pairings as virago and Chicago, ceases and paresis, skittish and Yiddish, antelope and envelope, horas and Torahs, Alzheimer's and climbers, for 100 cleverly rendered and entertaining pages."
Alan Cheuse, NPR.org
"[A] tour de force novel-in-verse....It is hard not to feel celebratory over its heart-singing smarts, its existence as a fist raised against a life ending. What melancholia is there is confined to its characters — it's a triumphant, moving work of true craft and wit."
"Truly singular....There is so much bound up in the novel's singsong verse: stories about AIDS and Alzheimer's, altruism, art, lives linked together by buried incidents that spring up again to bear unexpected fruit."
About the Author
David Rakoff was the New York Times bestselling author of the books Fraud, Don't Get Too Comfortable, and Half Empty. A two-time recipient of the Lambda Literary Award and winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor, he was a regular contributor to This American Life. He died in August 2012 at the age of forty-seven, shortly after finishing this book.