Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish

by David Rakoff

Hardcover, 160 pages, Random House Inc, List Price: $26.95 | purchase

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Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish
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David Rakoff

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Book Summary

An edgy novel in verse traverses the experiences of characters linked by acts of generosity or cruelty throughout major historical events of the 20th century.

Read an excerpt of this book

Awards and Recognition

7 weeks on NPR Hardcover Fiction Bestseller List

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish

Susan had never donned quite so bourgeois
A garment as Thursday night's Christian Lacroix.
In college — just five years gone — she'd have abhorred it
But now, being honest, she fucking adored it.
The shoulders, the bodice, insane retro pouf,
Where once an indictment, now good, calming proof;
She'd no longer be tarred by the words "shame" or "greed,"
Tossed about by the weak. No, now Susan was freed!
If she wanted to spend half the whole day adorning
Herself, well what of it? The American Morning
Had dawned! At Oberlin stuff she'd feigned being above,
Had turned into all that she most dearly loved.
And conversely, stuff she might actively seek
Now repelled her as sub-par, too lenient, and weak.
Out was group therapy (adieu agoraphobics!),
In was massage, Silver Palate, aerobics.
Innermost was a Susan Improved and Untrammeled
Sleeker and diamond-bright, sharp and enameled!
She happily ate "poisonous" white-flour pasta
Whereas all those Ultimate Frisbee white Rastas
Didn't seem sexy and free anymore,
And frankly, the U.S. in El Salvador
(Or out of it? Truly, she'd largely lost track
And hadn't the patience to find her way back),
Among frailer aspects of the human condition
Now just turned her stomach. Once-hated ambition
Awakened her senses like rarest perfume;
It could render her weak-kneed across a large room.

It was all large rooms lately, all beautifully appointed
And Susan had somehow been specially anointed
To stand in them prettily, playing her part:
Girl at the nexus of commerce and art.
Her father was glad to augment the small salary
She made as factotum at the Nonnie Cash Gallery.
Nonnie was in the news seven months back
When she'd ended a group show by handing out crack.
"Let's turn this new vice into something convivial!"
(The chief of police called her "clueless and trivial.")
Susan adored her and worshipped her style,
Loved her pronouncements of "perfect" and "vile,"
Loved the sheer whim, the madcap willy-nillyness
And how deeply seriously Nonnie took her own silliness
(Though she'd have loved Hitler, if forced to confess,
If he had seen fit to have bought her that dress).

"The opening demands it!" Nonnie said on their spree,
"And Spraycan can bloody well pay, thanks to me."
There was bourbon in hypos, doled out by chic nurses —
in truth white-clad models — Osetra beggars' purses.
The waiters were done up like Jean Genet felons:
Brush-cuts, fake shiners, with asses like melons.
And serving as Boswells to Nonnie's new caper,
Scribes from East Village Eye, FMR, Paper.
Nonnie barked orders in Urdu and Xhosa,
And with a "Ragazzi, servite qualcosa!"
Came the blush that rose when her blood started to sing
From a room where the energy gets into swing.
Look at this shit, she thought, pure onanism!
Ransom-note lettering, sequins, and jism,
Neiman impasto with touches of Basquiat,
Smoke, sizzle, bells, whistles ... all of it diddly-squat!
Nonnie'd built him a name by dint of sheer will.
A bluff that distracted from his lack of skill.
Despite what collectors seemed willing to pay,
Spraycan 3000 had nothing to say.

Nathan was due as the evening wound down.
They'd rented a car for a week out of town.
Josh was in Chappaqua seeing his mom
They'd stop, pick him up, then continue right on
With luck they would reach the Cape not long past one,
A week on the ocean had sounded like fun.
But then the foreboding that started to loom
When Susan saw Nate standing there 'cross the room,
Clad in the uniform he'd worn since Ohio:
Birkenstocks, drawstring pants (think Putumayo).
With no small remorse, she thought, He and his mess
Better not come near this fabulous dress.

——————

Ah, whither love's ardor whose heat used to scorch her?
Now his mere face can assail her like torture
And being alone with him renders her frantic
It makes her a hectoring shrew, a pedantic
Wet blanket, although it is also true, in her defense
That Nate can be maddeningly oafish and dense.
Who chips a mug without knowing it, or
Doesn't see that they've just spilt some milk on the floor?
And once pointed out, he goes all Lotus
Position-y, saying mildly, "Wow. I didn't notice."
She didn't want some belching, farting, or toga-
Clad frat boy, but frankly, the wheat germ, the yoga
Seemed ersatz, some also-ran version of "mellow,"
This go-with-the-flow, unassailable fellow,
She just didn't buy Nathan's pressure-wrought grace,
And wanted sometimes just to slap that sweet face.

Now Day Three in Wellfleet, they've lost all their power
Which means no hot water, no lights, and cold showers.
And all Nathan does is repeat "This is cozy."
She thinks that perhaps she'll just get up and mosey
To where he is sitting to give him a smack.
Maybe the blow would do something to crack
This passive-aggressive facade for his shirking
Just going downstairs to get things back to working.
Or maybe, she thinks, I'll just fuck your best friend.
Now, something like that might just bring to an end
This constant pretending that everything's fine.
Maybe then you might evidence some sort of spine.
A thunderstorm could be heard off in the distance.
Susan had offered Josh any assistance.
"Sure," Josh replied, "you can come hold the ladder."
Nathan kept reading, which just made her madder,
And then madder still when he hadn't detected
Her tone, which was heavily sarcasm-inflected:
"Need anything up here, Nate, before we're done?"
"No, that's okay," Nate replied, "you guys have fun."
"We will." Her smile had a slight rodentine tightness.
Nathan went back to his Unbearable Lightness
Of Being, that summer's one de rigueur book,
And, lost in the story, did not even look
Up from the page for an hour or more
When the others came through the basement stairs door.
"You were gone for a while. Must have got a lot done."
"Oh, we did," Susan said, squinting, as the lights all surged on.