David Rakoff's ingenious, delicately haunting final book, which he completed shortly before his death from cancer last year at age 47, is a novel written entirely in rhymed verse. Probing, poignant, and wickedly funny, the 12 linked set pieces that make up Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish (Doubleday) go back and forth in time and alternate points of view; taken together, they illuminate the many stages of life.
In addition to his writing, Rakoff, who was awarded the 2011 Thurber Prize for American Humor, is best known for his radio broadcasts on This American Life, hosted by Ira Glass. David Sedaris (Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls), who was a friend of and mentor to Rakoff, was privy to his writing process as he worked furiously to finish his last novel. When we spoke to Sedaris, he offered this appreciation:
"David wrote while getting chemo, while waiting around in hospital rooms, and he would send me pieces of what he'd done. I just marveled at his words, and I remember thinking, 'How can he be pulling off this rhyming thing?' I don't think he consulted a dictionary. What he's created in this book is Seussian. You know, the world is full of shitty lines. Just listen to some of the song lyrics out there, and you think, 'Okay—peach does not rhyme with beige.' Or when people rap, sometimes they cheat and do it really quickly so we won't notice they're not really rhyming. David did it right—he followed the rules.
"I can't imagine writing a book when you're feeling so sick, and being so dedicated and focused in spite of everything, when you have a deadline, literally. I loved hearing David read. If the rhythm wasn't there on the page, he would invent it—make it musical. Even now, I keep finding whole interviews with him to listen to that I've never heard before, so it's still possible for me to hear his voice, to believe he's in a studio somewhere reading stories—I don't ever want to come to the bottom of that trove, and accept the fact that he's not here."
Amethyst asters on brown banks of peat,
Aloes with leaves thick and fleshy as meat.
Beryl-eyed lions and gray monkeys who so
Resembled the creatures of Le Douanier Rousseau.
Succulents' paddles and dew-heavy fronds,
Tourmaline fish swam through indigo ponds,
Ivies that twined with a grip near prehensile...
All sprang alive from the tip of Cliff's pencil.