From title to its cover, David Rakoff’s “Love Dishonor Marry Die Cherish Perish,” which recently hit the Boston bestsellers list, is a startlingly unusual book. Local booksellers agree. “I thought it was beautiful,” says Sira Dooley Fairchild of Harvard Book Store, “devastating and beautiful and sad and funny.”
Rakoff wrote his novel entirely in verse, lending its multiple, linked tales a musicality that invites reading aloud (local buyers are scooping up the audio version, read by Rakoff, who had been a frequent guest on public radio’s “This American Life”). Poets once owned the market in storytelling, but for several centuries a wall has divided prose and poetry, and these days novels in verse are rare; in recent memory, only Vikram Seth’s 1986 “Golden Gate,” which veteran bookseller Dale Szczeblowski from Porter Square Books points out was “a surprising bestseller,” comes to mind.
More than genre sets the book apart. Rakoff died last year of cancer at the age of 47. In previous books, he’d reckoned with his illness and likely early death but this last one was written in the shadow of death, against the clock running out. Friends propping up the dying writer (sometimes literally) as he raced to finish the novel’s editing, design, and audio version. Rakoff died in August 2012; his book was born a year later.
Other books have been released after their authors’ deaths. Peter Win of Brookline Booksmith mentions David Foster Wallace’s “The Pale King,” a Pulitzer finalistin 2012, was published three years after the writer committed suicide. John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces” was published posthumously after a campaign by Toole’s mother and the writer Walker Percy — a saga that enhanced its appeal as an outsider’s scathing critique of an uncaring, ridiculous society.
Still, neither of these was produced in the final days of a writer terminally ill. The fact of its author’s impending death lends “Love Dishonor Marry Die Cherish Perish” an air of ineffable grace and emotional power. No wonder readers are falling in love.