rakoffIn the three years I worked Author Events for University Book Store, meeting and hosting David Rakoff in the Fall of 2010 was, hands down, the best experience of my stint. He was on tour for Half Empty; and was frail, in pain, with an arm so weakened by his cancer that he couldn’t even hold his book. David Rakoff made such an impression on me. I have to admit (don’t throw tomatoes!) that I barely knew his work at that point. I was excited about him because my boyfriend was excited about him. I had heard his ridiculously funny skit on Wire Tap with Jonathan Goldstein  where he insists that getting drunk before a job interview is the way to go. I spent an evening and a day with him and I fell in love (I’m not kidding). As you can imagine, David was sharp, witty and smart. He was also kind, sensitive, and so cool. He was my people. We sat back and talked about crafting and boys and being Jewish and New York City. He asked me about my family history and was sincere in his curiosity. He told me my boyfriend was a cutie! He brought a handmade stamp of his face that he stamped on every book he signed. He was self-deprecating and joked about his health. He used his words carefully and was extremely present. I feel so lucky that I got to share a brief moment in his life and that I was able to let him impact me.

 

I can’t recommend his new book enough. It’s brilliant. We’re all so lucky to have a piece of his genius come alive after his too short life has sadly ended. Did you hear that one Wire Tap  that’s a spin off of Kafka’s metamorphosis? Jonathan Goldstein plays Gregor Samsa who wakes up to find himself an insect and he writes to a Doctor named Seuss, who is written and read by Rakoff. Doctor Seuss writes back only in rhyme. The fluidity of Rakoff’s rhyme in that skit is carried over to his new novel, Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, which is essentially the history of 20th century America, written in iambic pentameter.

 

It’s one of a kind, and a joy to read.

–Anna Micklin, General Non-Fiction Buyer

***

If you were to ask me if I wanted to read a novel written by a person dying of cancer exploring the meaning of life, my first answer would always be a resounding—Pass. It’s not that I don’t think those novels have a place or are worthy of readership—they’re just not for me. Mostly due to my own innate cynicism and a family medical history that leads me to assume I’ll be one of them at some point. (Avoidance is a magical protective force field.) But the final work and first novel written by David Rakoff—I definitely wanted to read. I knew Rakoff’s work mostly from This American Life. I knew his voice and the voice inside my head would get along–that I would get none of the death-bed religion I am so cynical about. Rakoff’s dark sense of humor applied even to the most terrifying of tragedies, his own death, and this novel is no different. He never glosses over the dark, never makes excuses—it simply is, and is worth noting. With LOVE, DISHONOR, MARRY, DIE, CHERISH, PERISH, Rakoff seems almost to be willing the reader and himself to recognize the light alongside the darkness, to see the DEATH as part of LIFE.

 

Everything seemed bathed in a heavenly light,
Perhaps, it was just as a contrast to night”.

 

Within the first few stanzas of this rhyming novel the rhythm of the meter pulls you into it like the rhythm of a train on a track. Its solid, steady pace weaves and winds its way across the country and spans the 20th century. Rakoff adeptly drives the story, stitching and tying together a tapestry of interconnections: between a red-haired teenage Margaret escaping the brutality of slaughterhouse work and familial abuse in turn-of-the-century Chicago; Artistic Clifford only recently freed in the San Francisco of Gay Liberation to land harshly in the AIDS epidemic; Put-upon Nate who finally stands up for himself in a best-man speech at his ex’s wedding to his best friend, and more— all connected, sometimes barely but always significantly, rolling into each other until you reach the end, which in itself harkens forward and backwards simultaneously. Cycle of Life, though rolling ever forward, passengers disembarking and boarding all along.

 

Rakoff never steers into the precious and never makes the proclamation of there being a Master Plan (be it God or Fate). Rakoff’s is a world of happenstance, but one in which those fleeting moments, even if unrecognized by the participants, are imbued with so much weight and potential. The title and Seussian rhyme scheme alert us–His is a declaration that Beauty and Joy are all around us but so is Damage, so is Darkness and Death and it is all LIFE. And Life is not a solo endeavor. We are each simply a word in a much bigger rhyme.

The fact that Rakoff created this work as he himself faced and succumbed to death is extraordinary and adds extraordinary weight to it, but the novel could stand alone without its writer’s death. I wish entirely that it did. This book can be read quickly, but shouldn’t be. It should be read, slowly, savoured, and re-read.

 –Anna Updegraff, Author Events Buyer

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Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish: A  Novel by David Rakoff was released on July 16, 2013 from Doubleday, a division of Random House.