Monday, December 16, 2013

Love … Perish

Today I’m going to recommend a book that I know doesn’t sound very good when I summarize it.

It’s a short novel, a series of brief, sensitive vignettes about people whose lives are connected to each other by their actions - loving actions or cruel, selfish actions. And it’s written in verse.

I know. Stay with me.

The book is Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish: A Novel by David Rakoff. The poetry is not beautiful stuff; it is a sort of jaunty, Noel-Cowardish doggerel that makes an interesting contrast to the sometimes quite serious tone of the stories.

In this snippet, for instance, Helen has been jilted by her married lover, who is also her boss:

The very next Monday, from others she heard, 
That, without her knowledge, he’d had her transferred. 
At least (tiny comfort) they didn’t demote her 
But Helen became what is known as a “floater.” 
Doing steno for this one, or helping with filing 
And through it all Helen made sure to keep smiling. 
The salt in the wound was the sight that then faced her, 
The looks he exchanged with the girl who’d replaced her. 

Once you get used to this - and I admit that it didn’t happen for me immediately - the power of the stories takes hold of you. They’re satirical, sharply-drawn, full of piercing observation and kindness and razor-blade wit. I really enjoyed reading it, and I know I’ll read it again.

Rakoff is known for his excellent essays and for his contributions to the NPR show This American Life.  (That link takes you to a really extraordinary live talk he did for This American Life; it's kind of long, but it's worth watching all the way through to the end.)

Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish is the book Rakoff wrote as he was dying of cancer in 2012. It’s an ambitious and impressive gem of a book, one-of-a-kind, as entertaining and lovely as it is unusual. Next time you’re in the mood for something different pick it up.

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