Book Review: 'Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish'

Alan Cheuse reviews the last book written by David Rakoff, who died last year. The novel Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish is written in verse.

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The writer and humorist David Rakoff died last year at the age of 47 of cancer. He left behind his final work: a brief novel in verse with the long title "Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish." It was published today, and Alan Cheuse has this review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: This short but abundantly populated novel in verse had quite an effect on me. It's all I can do to write a novel in prose, but a novel in rhyming couplets with a story that keeps my attention and exudes beauty and the suffering attendant upon a human predicament? The story, an obliquely linked series of half a dozen narratives, begins with a birth in the stockyard section of Chicago in the early 20th century.

The infant, named Margaret, had hair on her head, thick and wild as fire and three times as red. The midwife, a brawny and capable whelper, gave one look and crossed herself. God above, help her.

This quickly builds to an account of rape and incest. The story barrels on to new sets of characters. All of it works beautifully in the moment and, better yet, comes together at a very high, stylistic level in the end, culminating in a single, beautiful image, which I won't reveal in the hope that you will read to it yourself.

Along the way, you can have a lot of fun, no matter how serious the subject. The family, sometimes alienating, sometimes consoling, stands out among others, especially because of the rhymes. Such pairings as virago and Chicago, ceases and paresis, skittish and Yiddish, antelope and envelope, horas and Torahs, Alzheimer's and climbers, for 113 brilliantly rendered and entertaining pages on quite serious matters.

BLOCK: The book is called "Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish" by the late writer David Rakoff. Our reviewer Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University.

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