Reading the new novel in verse by David Rakoff, you can hear his voice again, wordy, so witty, a little worried, and always wise. The author and “This American Life” regular, who died of cancer last August at 47, seems to be reading the long lines aloud in your mind’s ear, as they steadily tumble forth in anapestic tetrameter. His mordant humor, his compassionate vision, his moral questioning, his sharp honesty, they’re all intimately wedded to the meter and the zestful diction of the book. Even the volume’s mouthful of a title, “Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish,” evokes the fullness of Rakoff’s delivery.
Rakoff completed this small novel shortly before he died, and it is a lovely parting gift. He is best known, perhaps, for his rich essays about self-acceptance, compromise, perspective, and life in America, which were collected in the books “Fraud,” “Don’t Get Too Comfortable,” and “Half Empty.” But the new direction he takes in “Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish” brings out the best in him, too, as he fits his voice into a tighter form without ever becoming a slave to that form. He is as vital, as blackly comic, as bursting forth with detail, as vernacular, and as poignant in metered verse as he is in his effortlessly long prose sentences. Each couplet here equally serves the structural rules, the story, and Rakoff’s matchless sensibility.