Review of The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart, or ‘author too in love with his own concept to see the gaping blindspots.’
This is a novel which was recommended to me by friends as “if you liked Fight Club you’ll love this.” Though I can see the comparison, it really does fall short. Fight Club was taut and lean, this was bloated and outdated – like some lecherous late middle-aged guy you run in to at a party, who proceeds to trap you in a conversation you’d rather not be in.
Once I started reading I discovered that my friends’ explanation of this book made more sense and appealed more than the book itself does. Yes, if you decide to assign random actions to different sides of dice and throw them – you will (by your own made up rules) have to go do the thing it lands on. But don’t you dare lose track of the fact that you’re the one who put those six outcomes on that die. You’re still in control, stupid.
Psychologist narrator decides one day to just play with possibilities. His very first one is “if this die is a one, I’ll go rape my neighbour.” It is. He does. Lovely. How very free.
I’d been told about this bit, but I’d always assumed it was further along in the book, something dark and disturbing which he builds up to. But nope: it happens straight away, which doesn’t strike me as very good plotting. Also, the neighbour loves it, so it’s not really rape. Women are always gagging for it, aren’t they?
The problem at the core of this book is that narrator Luke Reinhart and the author Luke Reinhart are, (I’d venture) pretty much one and the same in their viewpoints . And it’s a one-dimensional, pseudo-revolutionary viewpoint with no regard for other human beings. They both think that living randomly is awesome. Like, so totally awesome that the narrator throws away most of his established life in the process of following this dumb idea of the roll of the dice. He loses his job, wife and family along the way but it’s cool, ’cause now he’s living wild and crazy and free and doing stuff he’d never normally do. Well, it’s definitely wild and crazy, but I fail to see why that’s the stated aim, and I don’t believe the new experiences are worth what each ‘Dice Experiment’ character throws away in the process.
Frustratingly, the plot does light on all my counter-arguments (always put forward by the narrator’s psychologist colleagues), but they’re always just brushed aside as unhip. Nevermind this square life where you don’t rape your neighbours – this dude’s living free! They fired him at work? Great: now he can really get on with his work! It’s the same dumb TV logic which sees cops only catching the murderer once they’re suspended from the case.
This book is a big-assed brick of a novel, and if you’re not charmed and amused by the narrator, or if you’re not into the machismo – yet lack of sense of self (ie personality or scruples) – which the narrator character enthuses about for most of the book, it’s going to be a trudge.
I wonder how different my reading of this might have been if I’d read it in social context when it came out in 1971 (the same year as the Stanford Prison Experiment, as it so happens). It seems to be bourne of that same Stanford Prison Experiment thinking which is willing to risk treading on people en route to gaining a deeper psychological understanding of human nature. I also wonder how different this novel would be if it hadn’t been written in the early 70s. The two seem inextricably linked, and not in a good way. Like I said – think bloated middle-aged guy at a party. Oh, and he’s just bought his first motorbike and wants to tell you all about it. “It’s really powerful, sensual, raw. You should try it some time, come for a ride with me.”
All in all – Luke Rhinehart – you’re icky and please take your midlife crisis elsewhere.
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