Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish
by David Rakoff
Looking for a short novel in verse about a cast of characters whose interlocking stories span the length and breadth of America over most of the 20th century?
Well, neither was anyone else. But that's the brilliant thing about this book. It's like the first iPod: something that nobody was asking or waiting for but which was such a beautiful, wonderful surprise that it seemed as if you had somehow dreamed it into existence.
Having read some glowing reviews, I picked up the book almost as a dare. Neither the form (narrative verse) nor the content (enough woe and misadventure to fill a week's programming on the Lifetime channel) held any great appeal for me, but I had to see what all the buzz was about.
Rakoff was a frequent contributor to public radio's This American Life and has a well-honed knack for bringing compelling characters to life in short order with a telling detail or well-turned phrase. From misfit teenagers and mid-century steno-pool girls to exuberantly gay pop artists and soulless yuppies, Rakoff's characters capture and hold the reader's interest. Their stories are spun in rhyming couplets, which actually send the reader's eye (ear?) galloping onward in a way that straight prose cannot. Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish is not especially good poetry, but Rakoff's almost comical verse sustains a mordant counterpoint to his often dark subject matter. It's great storytelling.
Sadly, this will be David Rakoff's last book. He died of cancer in August 2012; he was just 47.
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Review by Don Beistle