The Dice Man
Author: Luke Rhinehart
Original Publication: 1971
Genre: Fiction, Satire
Dr. Lucius Rhinehart is bored. Bored with himself, his family, his psychological practice, with society and its ridiculous rules and constraints; BORED. His wife irritates him, his children are tedious, his patients never get any better. He’s stagnating in every sense of the term and is contemplating suicide. Coming to the conclusion that suicide isn’t an option, he decides that he is going to spice up his life by leaving some of his decisions to chance – that is, he assigns a certain number to each of several choices, rolls the dice, and does whatever the dice choose. No rolling again, no taking it back. Sounds like harmless fun, right? Unfortunately, Dr. Rhinehart’s black sense of humor gets the best of him and his first “decision” one evening is whether or not to go to bed with his wife, stay up reading, or go down the hall and rape Arlene, his attractive neighbor and wife of a colleague. Perhaps not surprisingly, the dice choose Arlene, and Luke dutifully trundles down the hall. “Dr. Rhinehart, what a surprise!” she says as she answers the door. He growls “I’ve come to rape you.” She laughs, and the whole process is further complicated by the fact that she has a crush on him, welcomes the advance, and wants to continue the affair.
Heartened by this experience, Luke starts trusting more and more of his decisions to the dice, much to the consternation of his wife and colleagues. Deciding he’s never felt so alive, Luke eventually becomes “The Dice Man”, leaving ALL of his decisions up to chance in order to become the ultimate random human. He begins recommending the DiceLife to his patients, with the stipulation that you have to follow through with what the dice choose, no matter what that might be, what the consequences are, or what people might think. The most important rule, however, is that you never tell anyone that you’re living the DiceLife. The results of this are mixed – is Luke truly descending into personal anarchy or insanity, or has compelling himself to follow the die merely made him APPEAR that he is? In any case, his choices become more and more outrageous (not terribly surprising, given that his first set of choices contained one which would result in him committing rape and cheating on his wife), and Luke completely puts aside all social niceties.
Wow! I thought that I’d read most of the classic ‘subversive’ modern literature, but this one managed to slip under my (and, I would imagine, most people’s) radar. Not surprising since it was published nearly forty years ago. The book cover boasts “This book will change your life.” It’s safe to say that it affected me pretty profoundly. I thought it was both hilarious and fascinating, and I found myself eying up a pair of dice, willing myself to have the courage to try it out. Luke himself is in the perfect position to try this out – he is able to couch the practice of shirking all personal responsibility in the pursuit of happiness as a psychological experiment; that is, one which he can later publish as something he is working on professionally. In typical fashion, he and his patients tend to begin by using the dice to experiment sexually. I’m not sure whether this says more about society’s repression of human sexuality / sexual expression (particularly in the 1970’s) or if it is meant to illustrate that an obvious mechanism for casting off rules and repression (whether societal or personal) would be to express oneself sexually or indulge fantasies.
Still, if one could bring themselves to accept the consequences along with the freedom, how exhilarating! Imagine a world where instead of hemming and hawing about your awful job, you simply say “If I roll a one or a two, I stay at my job. Three or four, I quit. Five or six, I quit AND tell my boss what a ridiculous ass he is.” And then following through, no matter what. The thrill of freedom coupled with the denial of all responsibility for your actions would be intoxicating for many of us.
Fun Fact: You may have noticed that the Author’s name and the main character’s name are one and the same. In reality, Luke Rhinehart is a pseudonym for George Cockcroft, who wrote the book while he was studying psychology and performing his own experiments. The book has since become something of a cult classic.
Bother if: You’re a fan of subversive literature, or can relate to being bored with the world. Even though the DiceLife is an outrageous example of attempting to embrace one’s own nihilism, the underlying message is I don’t have to accept this life. Not if I don’t want to. The book serves as a reminder that there is another you lurking under the surface, and that we should all strive to let that person shine through, if only a little.
Don’t bother if: You can’t fall in love with the idea of changing one’s life at the expense of one’s family, job, and social responsibilities. There were definitely some cringe-worthy and “Oh, he ISN’T!” moments in the book, and Luke is not the world’s most endearing protagonist.