The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart
Imagine if you lived your life by the roll of a dice – every decision made, every thought popping up in your head (no matter how fleeting), resolved by a crap shoot. That’s the central conceit in Luke Rhinehart’s The Dice Man, a darkly humorous philosophical novel musing on the intertwining strands of chance and free will which govern modern life (and what happens when you ignore they exist!).
The book follows a seemingly depressed psychologist (also named Luke Rhinehart) who takes the fateful decision to decide whether he should rape a colleague’s wife at the turn of a die – obviously, this sets the tone somewhat. Don’t worry, he doesn’t actually rape her as it happens; she is quite prepared to be seduced willingly, but the psychologist’s devotion to the dice soon becomes a slippery slope. It’s not long before he is letting his every choice be determined by the die and is unable to resist it leading him astray from his cosy middle-class life and onto a path of self-destruction, even though it causes him to betray his own family, as well as commit murder.
Depending on your sense of humour, The Dice Man can indeed provoke grim chuckles on occasion, though its main ambition is to shock and be wilfully controversial, essentially acting as a macabre exploration of one man’s twisted rationalisations as he lets his every choice be determined at random. However aberrant and immoral things become, the main character’s impulse to rely on dice as a philosophy is seductive and it soon inspires a new religion in the book to embrace the same method as a means of casting off one’s identity and living life free of all inhibitions.
Making its mark as a cult bestseller from its release in 1971 onwards, The Dice Man echoed a post-hippie 1970s ‘Me Generation’ revelling in a selfish, entitled sense of individualism unleashed following the disheartened realisation that peace and love had failed to change the world. As such, I’d argue it’s this self-centredness in ’70s culture which gave The Dice Man its lasting literary resonance. I would interpret Rhinehart’s novel as a pulpy and slightly schlocky satirical attack not just on the psychiatric industry, but also on the nature of conformity itself, from the irrational herd mentality it inspires, to the strange discomfort we get from seeing it flouted.
The Dice Man tends to divide opinion among most people I know who’ve read it. It is, in every sense, a Marmite novel, provoking distaste from some people, but satisfying the taste buds of others who dine off the same plate. The novel is also extremely dated, but The Dice Man remains a clever work of subversive irony which is written purely to make you shift uneasily in your seat. If you’re a fan of transgressive fiction more generally, I would recommend ‘The Dice Man’ as a compelling read – just make sure you put on your philosopher’s hat before give it any knee-jerk dismissals.
Review: © 2016 Luke Edley
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Poet, humorous fiction writer and novelist. Fond of satire. Interested in comic novels, black comedy and tales of satirical derring-do.