What Laura is Reading Now

rakoffYears 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?