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’.