What Laura is Reading Now
Years ago, I was listening to an episode of This American Life when I heard a segment — and a voice — that I will never forget. It was my first encounter with David Rakoff. Part of an episode on “Frenemies,” the segment — a fictional wedding toast-in-verse given by the bride’s ex-boyfriend — was as clever as it was haunting. That segment can gratefully be listened to here, a wonder of the Internet all the more valuable because of Rakoff’s death last year.
When I later learned that that segment was part of a novel-in-verse Rakoff was writing, I pre-ordered the book, which was released earlier this summer. Called Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, the poem follows forward through time a series of characters linked by circumstance, beginning in the early twentieth century with a baby named Margaret. The meatpacking industry of Chicago creates a fitting backdrop for the grisly events that occur in Margaret’s life, born as she was with a foreboding head of thick, red hair:
“I’ll have you remember the girl is my daughter!”
Her mother would yell, but the men of the slaughter-
house would only be goaded to further chest-poundings,
Barbaric, in keeping with their vile surroundings:
The drain in the floor, a near-useless feature
Meant to dispatch all the blood of the creatures,
But gobbets of scarlet-black visceral scraps
Routinely stopped them up, clogging the traps.
Above them, hog carcasses, splayed open, red,
Like empty, ribbed, meat overcoats, overhead.
As I said: grisly — which is something important to note about this book generally. Though I am only about halfway through (a quick read if you want it to be, though the language and rhymes merit a slow, lingering pace), the scenarios so far are grim: rape, adultery, and abortion, among other difficult topics. And the slick, cool couplets of the omniscient third-person narrator toy somewhat lightly with the characters’ plights. He’s a God, it seems, plundering his broken universe for sport. With the wedding toast yet to come in the book, I know things eventually get philosophical in a way that may make some sense of these dismal scenes, but regardless, the writing is rewarding and brilliant and well worth the pain Rakoff pulls us into.
Are you a fan of David Rakoff’s? He also has three books of essays, none of which I’ve read. Have you read them? What do you think?