I was quite intrigued by the concept of Luke Rhinehart’s THE DICE MAN, (all rights to cocver image with current holder) about a man who livens up his existence by making decisions based on rolling a die. I still like the concept but the execution was a mess.
The protagonist, Dr. Rhinehart (the name on the 1971 book is pseudonymous), is a psychoanalyst frustrated that psychiatry has taught him how to live with his negative desires (sexual, violent, whatever) but not how to act on them: “Understand yourself, accept yourself, but do not be yourself.” Without giving in to those sides of himself, Rhinehart finds life meaningless; Zen Buddhism helps but only because it tells him life really should be meaningless, not by finding meaning. This is not a bad set-up … except that Rhinehart’s definition of being himself includes, for example, that he wants to act on his desire to rape his underage babysitter, instead of just accepting he lusts for her and doing nothing about it (I think that’s the point at which I knew this novel was not going to work for me). For that matter he doesn’t do anything about a patient who confesses to being a serial rape-murderer of small girls.
Then after a party at his apartment he sees a hidden die lying on a table and makes out a mental list of what he’ll do depending on what face is up. If it’s a five or six, he’ll go to bed, for instance, while if it’s a one, he’ll go downstairs and rape his best friend’s wife. And it’s one, and he does. But don’t worry, it’s the kind of old-school fictional rape where she enjoys it and wants more, so no harm done, right? (Actually the point I knew this book wouldn’t work was when the flyleaf announced it was an “exuberant, bawdy” book and then references the rape, with obvious enthusiasm for the “sweet taste” of forbidden love). And he didn’t have a choice, did he? The die decided! Because it’s not like being willing to rape someone based on a die roll reflects badly on him or anything.
The rape works out so well, Rhinehart starts making more dice rolls. A lot of them are sexual (different partners, different genders). Others involving switching therapies on his patients, acting for a day as if he were Jesus, doing whatever his wife asks, and eventually walking away from his wife and kids. And another rape attempt or two. And spreading the gospel of “diceliving” which he argues is more effective than psychoanalysis (psychoanalysis back in the day supposedly held the revealed truth of the universe, so it’s a big target of the satire here)—it gets you out of your comfort zone, and forces you to act out the unpleasant parts of yourself that you suppress (like the murderer and the rapist).
Rhinehart’s writing style is decent, his observations are occasionally pointed and if he’d had a decent story, I might have liked this. But it’s in the same spirit as A Fine Madness, where any selfish, anti-social behavior can be excused as rejecting conformity, being true to yourself, blah-blah-blah. Plus even without the rape, the book is hideously sexist: women are primarily vessels for Rhinehart’s seed or annoying creatures full of nagging and unreasonable demands. Again, very Fine Madness.
Despite it’s cult status, The Dice Man is a mess.