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Book review: <i>The Dice Man - A Novel</i> by Luke Rhinehart

the cover of the book

Instead of killing himself, Luke Rhinehart decides to give up his life in a different way - to the roll of a dice. The Dice Man challenges the notions of psychiatry, psychology, and how people live their lives.

The story

Luke Rhinehart is a typically bored psychiatrist in a typically unhappy marriage, living a life of quiet suburban desperation. His colleagues see his slide into boredom and despair as common - inevitable, in fact, for a middle aged man. His patients never seemed to get any better. He spent a while contemplating suicide, and then came to an epiphany and became a student of Zen. However, he also found that to be a boring path. What's a guy to do?

One evening after a dinner party, Rhinehart makes a decision that changes his whole life - based on the roll of a dice. He gradually begins to integrate the dice into his entire life, presenting the dice with a series of options and then rolling to determine his actions. As he becomes more and more involved with the dice, he begins to introduce it to other people - friends, family, patients. His dice therapy is considered horrifying by some and life changing to others, and soon he is infamous.

But when every move is determined by a roll of the dice, what is reality? And on that note, how can the reader find truth in Rhinehart, when there is simply... the dice?

The style

I was a bit torn by The Dice Man. I found the premise of the book very interesting; I liked the author's analysis of the futility of psychiatry and his unique take on introducing ordered randomness into life using the dice. I also liked the arbitrary rules he set for himself, and found the fact that he made a religion out of the die, by changing biblical passages to reflect his passion for the die and worshiping it in a religious way very intriguing. I'm not sure if it reflects on the author's psyche or if he did it deliberately, but none the less it was interesting. It was almost like a comment on the disintegration of religious belief and passion in our culture, and the replacement of it with something just as arbitrary and random but far easier to believe in. However, I digress.

The Dice Man is written in the first person mainly, and as has become a bit fashionable a la Vonnegut and friends, Luke Rhinehart is both the author and the protagonist, shattering that authorial boundary. The very beginning of the novel contains a note explaining that while the story will be written chronologically, the perspective will change, because the story is being written at the whim of the dice - which is also decided what information goes in, what perspective it is taken from, and how many words are dedicated to each topic. However, I didn't get that eery, disengaged-yet-sucked-in feeling that I got from both Breakfast of Champions and Luna Park, where the authors inserted themselves into the book. This may have been because I'm familiar with other works from those authors, but their appearances in their works gave the stories an extra dimensionality. In The Dice Man, I was unconcerned by the presence of the author as main character. As far as I was aware, he was merely a character with the same name as the author. Even the writing of it in the first person didn't help, and I found this disappointing because the technique of blurring the authorial line has been so successful in the past.

As I mentioned above, I did find the philosophical undertones of the book interesting. It's a really fascinating and unique concept - to faithfully follow the die, to always obey the option you've rolled, to disconnect from your personality, shake things up, and faithfully live as a new person every hour should the dice decree - I spent a lot of time on the reading thinking, could I do that? Would I be capable? Or is my personality so ingrained that I wouldn't succeed? It raises some thought provoking questions, bearing in mind that this work was a hit in the early seventies. I mean now, you tackle most of these questions at age twenty in the course of a regular sociology degree, but I can see where the concept is great.

My one complaint is this - I didn't think the actual writing style was very good. It was a little self conscious, a little "I'm naughty for taking LSD, SO cutting edge" in parts and a little stilted, in others. This could have been excused if the novel was purely in the first person, but the bits in the third person came away as a little bit passe as well. Of course, this may have gone over well in the seventies; maybe I'm just not reading it in the spirit of the right time. But I did find the writing a bit of a let down.

Who is this book for?

People who are interested in reading something that makes you think a bit, and who like that whole sixties/seventies cutting edge literature.

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For me, The Dice Man was somewhat reminiscent of Something Happened, by Joseph Heller - a fractured picture of the life of a man living in quiet desperation. I found Heller's to be better written, but of course, it's not quite so out there or extravagant in storyline. But this makes Heller even more impressive. In my humble opinion.

In short

Title: The Dice Man
Author: Luke Rhinehart
Publisher: The Overlook Press
ISBN: 0879518642
Year published: 1998
Pages: 431
Genre(s): Contemporary literature
Review Type: 


I found the mix of first person and third person writing worked really well for me. It created a perplexed style that helped me to understand the confused mindset which the protaganist was experiencing. I also found myself questioning the credibility of current organised religions. For me the book highlights the possibility of any religion becoming something huge from a very small minority of people.

I think it would be interesting book, but determining your whole life on the basis of a rolling of a dice is little bit stupid to me as the dice is only a thing to ply games but you can never gamble your life with this as if you do determine your actions by the dice then there is no difference in you and a insane man

Do not buy this book.

I stopped reading the book at page 124. If you let a dice decide whether you hang out with your kids or not...