Book Corner 2022.58

Yes, I squeezed one last book into 2022 making for 58.

by Luke Rhinehart (pseudonym)

The fantastic premise and story is overshadowed entirely by the raunch and ugliness in this 1971 novel. I’ve read CATCH-22 and CUCKOO’S NEST which bear some similarity, but the level of misogyny here was disgusting, and I can overlook a lot. I quit halfway through – but changed my mind and decided to see what would happen.

Psychiatrist Luke Rhinehart is bored with his life, so one night he decides to roll some dice to tell him whether to rape Arlene, family friend, colleague’s wife, and upstairs neighbor. The dice say to do it. So he “rapes” her (she wants it).

Exhilarated, he starts applying dice throws to other decisions in his life. Things go crazy quick. He feels he has stumbled upon a deep psychological discovery:

“It was the goddam sense of having a self. What if – at the time it seemed like an original thought – what if the development of a sense of self is normal and natural, but is neither inevitable nor desirable? What if it represents a psychological appendix: a useless, anachronistic pain in the side?” Soon he has given up control of his entire life to the dice.

After he’s done this for some period of time, the thought of going back to pre-dice life frightens him. “I thought of writing that from then on all dice decisions would be recommendations and not commands. In effect, I would be changing the role of dice from commander-in-chief to advisory council. The threat of having ‘free will’ again paralyzed me; I never wrote the option.”

His wife at first has no idea what’s going on, only sees him going crazy; feels she’s going crazy herself seeing him swing from loving to distant seemingly on random whim (actually on random dice throws). One day the dice tell him to leave her and the children forever. It’s the hardest thing they have ever told him to do (worse than rape and murder) but he does it.

Another woman he takes up with demands, “How am I supposed to enjoy being with you if I feel you can go ‘poof’ at any minute from some random fall of a die?” “Everything may evaporate at any instant,” he retorts. “Everything! You, me, the most rocklike personality since Calvin Coolidge: death, destruction, despair may strike. To live your life assuming otherwise is insanity.”

I kept reading for the insights like this. And I went back to it after I quit because it really was a gripping story. At once point, when the dice tell him to murder someone he knows, he makes a list of 36 people and asks the dice to tell him who. His wife and kids are on the list. (Why does he put these horrible things on the lists in the first place!?!) I found myself actually covering the end of the chapter with my fingers so that I couldn’t accidentally see the name of the victim in advance. That’s a gripping story.

Another book it reminded me of, and maybe was trying to emulate, was LOLITA, in its first-person unapologetic wacko humor in the midst of disgusting subject matter – but in no way shape or form does it ever approach the literary quality of that classic.

Full disclosure, I am someone who has used random number generators to decide things like what to eat. NOT whom to murder, though.

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