Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish by David Rakoff, Doubleday, 113 pages, $26.95. “The infant, named Margaret, had hair on her head/Thick and wild as a fire, and three times as red./The midwife, a brawny and capable whelper/Gave one look and crossed herself ‘God above help her’/She whispered but gave the new mother a smile./‘A big healthy girl. Now you rest for a while.’ ” If there seems to be a vaguely Seussian cast to the opening of David Rakoff’s posthumous novel-in-verse, it’s just an unavoidable peril of rhyming couplets and iambic tetrameter. (The description of the “midwife” as a “brawny and capable whelper” doesn’t hurt either.) But then anyone who has ever had the truly incomparable pleasure of reading a book by Dr. Seuss to a child can, no doubt, be forgiven for wondering why in heaven’s name such glories weren’t routinely aimed at adults.
It’s commonplace that some books and discs and movies come with stories that are every bit as dramatic and involving as the books and discs and movies themselves. In the case of “Love, Dishonor, Marry,” NPR favorite Rakoff managed to complete it just before dying of cancer almost a year ago (Aug. 9) at the age of 47.
He’d been inducted into NPR’s beloved wing of humor and whimsy by no less than David Sedaris and Ira Glass for Glass’ “This American Life,” and before this remarkable book was actually published, had given the world three essay-humor collections: “Fraud,” “Don’t Get Too Comfortable” (subtitle “The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil and Other First World Problems”) and Thurber prize-winner “Half Empty.”
Rakoff’s final gift is almost as much a product of illustration and design as a Seuss book (the former by Seth, just Seth, the latter by Chip Kidd). Here is a novel for those who can delight in the likes of this: “A permeable world where each friend is a trick./Can feel like it’s crumbling when one just gets sick./Add one more or two, and that queasy sensation/Can feel like a threat to one’s very foundation/ Three seems like a carelessness, a surfeit of strife/Exposing one to comment on the Platform of Life.”
– Jeff Simon