Book of the Week: The Late Great Rakoff, and a give-away

I remember hearing David Rakoff on This American Life and thinking he was David Sedaris, one of my favorite TAL contributors and authors, with a distinctive voice that makes everything he says funnier.

I didn’t know he wrote books, too. But after he died of cancer at 47 last year, there was a lot of talk about how he just managed to complete a novel. A novel written in verse — rhyming couplets that told a story spanning generations. That novel, Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, was released this month and has been getting a lot press and publicity, partly courtesy of the many friends and colleagues who loved and mourn him. I saw Sarah Vowell on The Daily Show mid-July promoting it.

Not a week later I opened to page one and finished the slim volume in one sitting. There are amusing pictures. There is clever language. There is story. There is almost mystery in the story (I had to go back a couple times to parse relationships, but that could be that I plowed through so fast I missed something. That happens when I like a book a lot, especially when I like the language used in that book a lot.)

The story is about a half dozen people whose relationships are twisted together, linked by blood or lust or past or even just some momentary connection. There is love and loss and sorrow and redemption.

It’s got all the makings of good chick lit or a potboiler romance. Except with wonderful words strung together to rhyme and give rhythm. For example: At the wedding of his former best friend and former girlfriend, Nathan — asked to give a toast — ponders what to say.

“I won’t wish them divorce, that they wither and sicken.

Or tonight that they choke on their salmon (or chicken)

I’ll stay mum on that time when the cottage lost power

In that storm on the Cape, and they left for an hour

And they thought it was just the cleverest ruse

To pretend it took that long to switch out the fuse.

Or that time you advised me, with so much insistence

That I should  be granting poor Susan more distance.

That the worst I could do was to hamper and crowd her.

That if she felt stifled she’d just take a powder.

That a plant needs its space just as much as its water.

And above all, not give her the ring that I’d bought her.

Which in retrospect only elicits a “Gosh!

I hardly deserved a friend like you, Josh.”

It is hard to know what bit to share here, where to stop. It’s all good, and although poetry can be difficult to read smoothly and still get the sense of all the author wants you to understand, Rakoff succeeds here. Mr. Right Now said describing the book as a love story in rhyming couplets doesn’t recommend it to him. But I think he’d love it. If you like good writing, if clever use of the language — and I use the word clever in its best sense — makes you giddy, read it.

And here’s a way to get it free: Share this post in social media and in the comment section, include the link to where you shared it in the comments below. Everyone who posts a valid link will be added to a drawing for a free copy of Rakoff’s book — postage included! I’ll do the drawing on Tuesday, so that gives you a few days to share this post with your social media networks. You can put it on LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Google+ or Facebook. Or all of them. That means up to five entries per person.

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