Yesterday 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.
Her biggest regret is the five wasted yearsThat she’s chided herself over shedding those tears.Instead of wishing for eyes that stayed dryShe should cherish that Helen, so able to cry,That Helen who felt things and then wasn’t scaredTo air them in public. That Helen who caredEnough 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.