Thursday, September 20

The Dice Man - Luke Rhineheart

Note: My reading of this novel may have been influenced by recent exposure to Tepper's brilliant, incomparable The Fresco, so take that into account.
Psychiatrist Luke Rhineheart is jaded, unfulfilled and beginning to believe that therapy isn't really useful. After an evening of poker with his wife, his colleagues, and a wife of a colleague, he cleans up their New York apartment, wondering what will bring his life meaning. Luke comes across a playing card, slightly elevated, and realises that a missing die must lie under the card. He decides that, if the die is showing a one, he must go downstairs and rape Arlene, the wife of colleague and neighbour Jake Ecstein. It is and he (with only a little resistance from the victim) does. And thus is born the first Diceman and the beginnings of what becomes a contentious new theory: living the dicelife, where every decision is made by the roll of a die.
The Dice Man describes Luke's life for the next two years - random sex, drug taking, an escape of patients from a psychiatric hospital, the creation of diceliving centres, and a meeting to revoke Luke's licence. The style changes from one chapter to the next - first person, third person, extracts from (as-then unwritten texts), letters, fake journal and press articles, police reports, meeting minutes etc.
The choices (dictated by the dice but created by the thrower) are sometimes horrific, as indicated by the initial act of rape. Luke argues that there has to be the potential for real loss in order for the die to work, but he reports followers who've committed suicide, he leaves his family forever, and commits murder as a result of rolls of the dice.
The Dice Man is billed as a modern classic, and Rhineheart (the writer) was been named Writer of the Century by men's magazine Loaded, after one of the contributors lived as a diceman for two years. I must say that I'm not surprised to discover the source of this tribute (which is displayed on the cover of my copy) - the overwhelming tenor is laddish and male-centric.
First published in 1971, I found it indulgent, somewhat incoherent, and a product of its time. I can not imagine this book authored by, or the life described lived by, a woman, though the novel describes several women whose lives are apparently improved by living by the die. But then, the women are portrayed in two dimensions if they're lucky - even the most reticent and apparently 'uptight' women are eager to lay Luke, those he rapes secretly acquiesce. Well, one doesn't at first (she knees him very hard in the groin) but shortly thereafter is convinced by another conquest to participate in a threesome.
In short, the novel reminded me of all the things I least liked about The House of God, without that novel's redeeming features. I finished it, which took forever (at just over 540 pages it's at least a hundred pages too long), but have absolutely no interest in the sequel or parallel works. - Alex

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