‘Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish’ A Verse Novel by David Rakoff

Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish”  by David Rakoff   (2013) – 113 pages

The infant, named Margaret, had hair on her head

Thick and wild as a fire, and three times as red.

Love-Dishonor-Marry-Die-Cherish-Perish-201x300This entire novel is written in rhyming couplets.  The technical name for the lines in this novel is ‘anapestic tetrameter’, lines of four feet,  each of three syllables, the stress falling on the last.  This information comes from a brilliant article by Alexandra Schwartz about Rakoff’s novel in the New Yorker, an article that if you are truly interested in reading Rakoff’s book, you have got to read.  But don’t let the words ‘anapestic tetrameter’ throw you; This is the same couplet structure as the poems ‘The Night Before Christmas’ and Dr. Seuss’s ‘Yertle the Turtle’.

The effect of all this rhyme is quite sing songy, but the verse must carry some heavy weight here.  It must carry all the emotion of that long list of verbs in the title above as well as all the wild highs of gay sex in San Francisco in the Seventies.

O just like the song says, my heart’s San Francisco’s

(Suck on that dear, while I work out where this goes…)

From the very first day Clifford couldn’t conceive

Why anyone ever decided to leave.

Hills, bay, and art, ineluctably bound

To make Clifford feel, I was lost now am found.

And crowning it all was the chief among joys:

The liquid ubiquitous river of boys.

Fuckable, kissable, dateable, rentable,

Faeries and rough trade, or highly presentable,

Stupid as livestock or literate in Firbank,

All of it galaxies distant from Burbank.    

 As a hetero, these lines make me feel . . . uncomfortable, perhaps as uncomfortable as a gay might feel when reading racy sex scenes between men and women.

After my attitude in the previous sentence, am I allowed to criticize this book?

Going ahead, my main problem is that I read another novel also about San Francisco in the Seventies which was written in couplets too.  That novel in verse was “The Golden Gate” by Vikram Seth.  I suspect that book was written by a closeted gay and has none of the explicitness of Rakoff’s book.  But the main difference between the two novels is that the verse in “The Golden Gate” is a spectacular literary delight while the verse in Rakoff’s book is never more than serviceable. Additionally “The Golden Gate”, which I consider one of the finest novels of the 20th century, presents a single coherent story, while the various stories in Rakoff’s book are disconnected and disjointed and do not lead to any compelling conclusion.

The artwork by Seth is also nothing to write home about.

2 responses to this post.

  1. I wondered what this book was about! I have seen it in the fiction and poetry sections.

    The verse has to be damned good before I read something like this! 🙂 I’ll have to take a look at it.


    • Hi Kat,
      This is one of those cases where the author passed away before before the book was published, and the reviews tend to be more tributes to the author than anything about the book. Also the author was a public radio personality. I was unfamiliar with him. I did like the New Yorker review. I just thought the Vikram Seth book “The Golden Gate” was far superior.


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