‘The rules are all around you. The rules that stop you seducing your neighbour downstairs, that stop you hitting your boss, that stop you leaving your family and leaving the country. The rules that stop you living’.
The Dice Man is a much appraised book published originally in 1971 at a time when literary satire was derived from the humanistic psychiatry work undertaken in the 1960s and 70s. The meaninglessness of contemporary American life was a popular issue with many authors who became noted for their irony and black humour.
It has been argued by some that the idea of the book appeals more than the book itself. Simply rolling a dice in order to make decisions does sound like a funny, light-hearted way of doing things. However, The Dice Man concerns itself with profound questions about life in society. Luke Rhinehart, as the author of this cult novel and as indeed the protagonist himself, offers an interesting perspective regarding the idea that we live in a world where society and conformity stop us from living. He lingers on the idea of what is boring and monotonous and concludes it is this that stops the self from really being the self. Indeed, these are highly interesting ideas and ones which lead to periods of self-reflection.
The idea of chance and fate becomes an intoxicating obsession for Luke Rhinehart and in an extreme and random act becomes the tool by which he makes all life decisions. These decisions range from sexual acts of depravity to enforced periods of silence or speech impediment, all decided by a role from a die. The whole concept starts off as a game, as a childish trail of thought which flourishes and consequently manifests itself as a religion. Still interesting, agreed?
Luke Rhinehart’s character Luke Rhinehart operates under the perfect guise of him being a psychiatrist. This cleverly allows the idea of ‘what doesn’t conform is madness’ to be explored. This is where things start to disintegrate and turn into an uneasy web of complex issues. The increasing randomness of the character makes the plot increasingly random and we, the reader, are left to wonder and ponder empty thoughts. It is clear that in a quest for liberation our main character transforms from strong to fallen man. He rejects all forms of social labeling and social identity perhaps to the point where we can no longer recognise him, or care for him. He is no longer happy in any role, in any location, anywhere and it is all self-inflicted. The book concerns itself solely with Luke Rhinehart and his obsession, his feelings, his agenda and his selfishness. It could be seen that the only job of the book is to highlight neuroticism in a man suffering from a midlife crisis.
I feel the power of the book is lost somewhere through the exposition of this brilliant idea as too much is explored. What starts as funny, engaging and intriguing turns into a sad, tragic tale of unbelievable events. It is still a good read in my opinion and what we should take from it is that, although it is a novel of extremes, the concrete idea behind it is not loose or flimsy or unworthy of consideration.