“Touching, ingenious and beautifully comic.”

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

“Anybody can be anybody”- The Dice Man

‘A cunning chaos: that is what my autobiography shall be. I shall make my order chronological; an innovation dared these days by few. But my style shall be random, with the wisdom of the Dice. I shall sulk and soar, extol and sneer. I shall shift from first person to third person: I shall use first-person omniscient, a mode of narrative generally reserved for Another. When distortions and digressions occur to me in my life’s history I shall embrace them, for a well-told lie is a gift of the gods. But the realities of the Dice Man’s life are more entertaining than my most inspired fictions: reality will dominate for its entertainment value.’

That is how The Dice Man begins: A fierce declaration of abandoning the self to live a life of random chaos in order to both discover and entertain. Not intrigued? Then this book is not for you. You are too self-centred, self-conscious, self-obsessed to be saved.

But Luke Rhineheart is not.

An American author, Rhinehart lived his whole life in America, the Land of the Free. But The Dice Man perfectly illustrates how you are not free if you live among those who insist on insisting on their own ideas. A successful psychiatry practice in Manhattan, a loving wife and two kids, Rhineheart has it all. But he is trapped by his job and his family, and life seems empty and boring. In a deep funk one night after discussing psychotherapy with his colleagues and friends at a poker game, Rhineheart concludes that ‘analysis, were it really on the right track, should be able to change the subject; to change anything and anybody.’ Desperate to experience something new and exciting, something fundamentally life-changing, Rhineheart decides that if the dice on the floor is a one, he would march downstairs and rape Arlene. A ‘one’ is cast. Terrified but excited, Rhineheart does not question the die.

I was, at first, horrified at the thought of the scene that was about to unfold before my eyes, but the breakdown of social, moral and sexual boundaries are undeniably thrilling. And, I’ll admit, the somewhat mechanical detachment between Luke and Arlene almost counteracted my feelings of anguish and nausea. Let me demonstrate:

‘I want to rape you, Arlene. Now this moment. Let’s go.’

‘All right […] but you leave Jake’s bathrobe alone.’

Biting and sardonic, The Dice Man paradoxically entwines the narrative techniques of first person point of view and detachment to create both a dark humour and a concerning rationalization of rape. But this is the thing with The Dice Man. It has no fear. Nothing is off limits. It re-enacts the most taboo of subjects in a disturbingly natural “I don’t give a fuck” way. It pokes fun at the very crimes that are capable of rocking our criminal justice system. The Dice Man is not only a trivialisation of taboo culture, it is, thanks to society’s refusal to discuss them, a fetishization of it. And I’ll admit it; although the rape scene is initially horrifying, Arlene’s desire to have sex with Luke- but not be held accountable for her actions- is no longer only Arlene’s; by continuing to read, we continue to participate. Come now, don’t be naïve. We give life to the very words on the pages before us after all. Although the events that unfold are, to say the least, morally wrong and disturbing, they are also incredibly alluring, primarily because the dice thrower is not held accountable for his or her actions. By using the dice to make all his decisions for him, Rhineheart has handed over all responsibility of his actions to chance and, if one believes in it, fate. And so, Rhineheart asks the reader to consider how our patterns both define and limit our lives. He suggests that breaking the patterns may lead us to fuller lives:

‘From children to men we cage ourselves in patterns to avoid facing new problems and possible failure; after a while men become bored because there are no new problems. Such is life under the fear of failure’.

Rhineheart exposes dice living as a mechanism that allows an individual to explore one’s ‘minority self’, the ‘parts’ of you that might want to do something unusual that are ordinarily repressed by your dominant personality; the idea of the self is a crutch that pigeonholes us and prevents us from experiencing things that we would not experience if we were “being ourselves”. I can’t help thinking that even though there are obvious ethical issues involved, the ordered randomness of dice therapy offers an intriguing resolution to the futility of psychiatry and the monotony of everyday life- ordered randomness using the dice.

Through the search for a more gratifying existence The Dice Man is essentially a horrifying and worrying rationalisation of rape, homosexuality, murder and child molestation. But I can’t help wondering that if there were no restrictions imposed by the “self”, and if you truly believed you couldn’t be held accountable for your actions, what would you do?

 

Reviewed by:

Sammy Evans

Added 6th January 2017

More Reviews By
Sammy Evans

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

I actually read about The Dice Man in another book I read, A Fucked up Life in Books and the author spoke about the novel in such a humorous way it piqued my interest. I immediately looked it up and it was written in 1971 and has cult status, obviously I immediately ordered a copy and added it to my to be read.

The novel is written by George Cockcroft, written in an auto-biographical way under the pen name Luke Rhinehart, a fictional psychiatrist who decides to give all his decision making over to the throw of a dice.

A whole culture has sprung up around the book and though I wasn’t tempted to try the Dice Life myself I can see why it’s so intriguing to people.

Sadly the writing didn’t do it for me, it’s quite long winded and for something that should be so exciting, I found the book really dragged in places and in the end I struggled to finish it.

Given the popularity of the book I’m disinclined to blame the writing other than to say it wasn’t to my taste, but the book certainly has some bright moments too.

Within the first few pages there’s a gasp-inducing reference to paedophilia and throughout the book Rhinehart continues to shock as he throws his morals away in the throw of a dice.

An interesting novel, and despite the writing not being to my taste, a great story I would definitely recommend.

 

Reviewed by:

Kath Cross

Added 10th October 2015

More Reviews By
Kath Cross

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