Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish [Book Review]

coverYesterday David Rakoff’s last novel was released. It’s written entirely in verse accompanied by weird and lovely illustrations by SETH, which adds a magical quality to the story. 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.

 This novel is worth reading twice. If you’ve never read verse extensively you may find it a bit distracting at first. I found that it helped when I read aloud, allowing my voice to carry the rhythm and my brain to focus on the stories. Each character and each life lead was interesting in its own right. I found that there was something to learn from each story, from each cruel gesture, from every human error, from every single redemption. Certain lines of rhyme melted my heart, others angered me, but most got me thinking about my life. A novel in verse is addicting, it’s like the most beautiful song you hope never ends.
Her biggest regret is the five wasted years
That she’s chided herself over shedding those tears.
Instead of wishing for eyes that stayed dry
She should cherish that Helen, so able to cry,
That Helen who felt things and then wasn’t scared
To air them in public. That Helen who cared
Enough about things she could speak them aloud,
That Helen of whom she might ever be proud.” (53)

 So, if you’re looking for a book in which to spend your time, pick up this one, you’ll be speaking in rhymes.

Love Always 

Vanessa Xo

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3 thoughts on “Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish [Book Review]

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