I write this personal reflection on the late gay writer David Rakoff’s final book in a month of anniversaries in Rakoff’s life and my own.
David Rakoff died of cancer on August 9, 2012 at the age of 47. His novel, the brilliant “Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish” written entirely in rhyming couplet verse, was published posthumously and became available in August 2013. He was working on this book, in which he invested so much of his literary aesthetic and tender yet acerbic humanity, right up to the final weeks of his life. Rakoff approached his impending death with a profound sense of satisfaction that he would be able to finish this book, his most ambitious piece of writing, and bequeath it to the world as his final testament and gift.
As I laughed and cried my way through it, exactly a year after his death, I found myself stunned by the vibrancy of the characters, the scope of the inter-related story lines covering almost the whole of the twentieth century, and the incisive analysis of individual and political conflict, all depicted through witty and (for the most part) exceptionally well-crafted poetry.
Paul Rudnick’s review of the book appeared in the New York Times on August 1st. In a NYT’s podcast the following day, Rudnick referred to the title as depicting how Rakoff’s novel “deals with all the great verbs of life.” I agree with Rudnick. Indeed, despite the book’s slimness at only 117 pages, “Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish” is a magnum opus of most of our personal and societal life experiences, values, traumas, hopes, disappointments, joys, and despairs.
We all share these superficial and profound dimensions of life. As I read the book, they came together for me with particular poignancy given the number of anniversaries in my own life that fall in August:
- August 7, 2009 – the date on which my long-term gay lover Bill was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer;
- August 11th – the birth date of my younger brother who committed suicide six months before Bill’s death;
- August 13th – my parents’ wedding anniversary, now both deceased;
- August 17th – the date on which Bill and I always celebrated our anniversary, a tribute to the occasion of our first romantic date in 1976;
- August 23,2009 – the date that Bill died, sixteen days after his diagnosis.
I have commemorated Bill’s and my life together and the story of the two weeks of his dying in the memoir “August Farewell – the last sixteen days of a thirty-three year romance.”
August – the month from heaven and hell for both David Rakoff and me.
* * *
For information on David Rakoff’s “Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish” see: http://amzn.to/12btywJ
For information on my memoir “August Farewell” and my novel “Searching for Gilead,” see my website: http://DavidGHallman.com