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.
In this novel, written in verse, each brief chapter introduces a different character, living in a different era, sometimes in a different city. The effect is mesmerizing, as both the cadence of the couplets and the connections that link the characters become more established and familiar. Rakoff (Half-Empty), a frequent This American Life contributor and winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor, who died in the summer of 2012, combines his wit and his gravity for an unexpected blend of uncomfortable rhymes that build into recognizable stories. In one of the most intriguing chapters, Helen is a secretary seduced by her boss and then transferred once she needs an abortion: "She asked if he'd ever again say Hello,/ Fedora'd and coated and ready to go/ He took a step backward as if sensing danger/ And fixed her with eyes of a cold-blooded stranger." Astounding, too, is how effectively an entire century is captured in these slices of daily life how each era both defines and inspires those within its grasp.
A gimlet-eyed observer and essayist crossed with a profane (and profound) Seuss-ian sensibility.
Leave it to David Rakoff to take on Joseph Moncure March (and "The Wild Party"), mano a mano and best that author at his own game while simultaneously paying him the highest honor.
This book is filled with vividly drawn inter-connected characters across generations..in rhyming couplets, no less! That the author is able to teases so much joy, laughter, and wit from a tale of broken families, unrealized dreams, Reagan-era intolerance, AIDS, sex, and love will come as no surprise to anyone acquainted with his previous works. That he does it with such erudite verbal cleverness is breathtaking.
The book was written while the author was facing a battle with the debilitating lymphoma that ultimately ended his own life at age forty-seven. How he managed this will seem unfathomable to mere mortals. and yet, for an author known as an avowed pessimist, this book is a surprisingly optimistic (if gimlet-eyed) look at the world: life is harsh and horrible, true, but there is beauty there, and hope, too.
It was a different experience to read in poetry, the stories he told were quite interesting but I wish it was a little longer. Also all the stories were a little depressing