They say The Dice Man can change your life, break you down and remake you in countless different incarnations.
It’s safe to say that reading The Dice Man affected me profoundly. The narrator and protagonist of the story, Luke Rhinehart begins by detailing his malaise: the humdrum routine of daily life, the predictability of married life, and his growing panic that the best of his life has already passed.
I get that. Those are the nihilistic traits I’ve been struggling with myself recently. I actually took comfort in the fact that this book was written some 40 years ago: I was surprised how easy it was to relate to this intelligent character thoroughly bored rigid by society and the predictable patterns that people’s lives follow.
Rhinehart is perfectly positioned to throw the rule book out of the window and start again: he’s a psychiatrist, and he believes the established practice for treating patients is ineffective at best. He believes that they are helping people to move from manic states of being unhappy with their lives to just accepting being unhappy. Hardly a ringing endorsement of psychiatry.
So, Rhinehart begins by experimenting on himself. Upon discovering a dice he gives himself the challenge – if the dice lands on a certain number, he will go to the apartment downstairs and rape the wife of his colleague. Naturally, the dice obliges this fantasy and Luke heads downstairs, announces his intentions to Adelle (his colleague’s wife), and the pair have sex. Now, before you freak out, it’s more of a rape fantasy, because Adelle is fully complicit and happy to indulge in future sessions, as long as they keep the pretence of it being against her will.
This initial breaking down of social boundaries is as thrilling to read: how easy in one swift move to break down marital relations and betray a close friend and colleague! And all because the dice dictated it!
Rhinehart continues giving the dice seemingly trivial influence over his life, but as the prospect of radical change appeals to him, he gives the dice greater power over his life. He allows it to dictate his persona on any given day, and he starts to introduce ‘dice-therapy’ to his patients.
There’s an over-emphasis on using the dice for sexual reasons, possibly the most repressed area of most people’s lives whether they admit it or not. Rhinehart, it seems, will try anything once as long as the dice dictates it. He has sex with patients, with prostitutes, he even tries being gay for about five minutes.
Of course, the dice is a mischievous mistress. Rhinehart makes some questionable decisions at the hands of the dice, leaving his wife and family, discrediting himself in front of his peers and generally getting into weird scrapes like helping a number of psychiatric patients escape through a visit to the theatre.
At the same time, the cult of the dice continues to grow. It comes to the attention of the media, Rhinehart’s colleagues and becomes a wider movement than he first imagined. Unfortunately, the book becomes slightly boring toward the end, as it becomes more concerned with the various dice institutions that spring up. To be honest, those moments subvert the spontaneity and promise that the book has in its earlier chapters.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about The Dice Man is the concept that we can be many people and entertain many sides of our personalities.
I don’t think that the dice cures Rhinehart’s nihilism, but it certainly seems to free him from a fear of the unknown. Having made massive changes like leaving his family (which he acknowledges was stressful), Rhinehart accepts changes easily and transcends social norms.
The book is an interesting answer for anyone who’s got that generational restlessness (Is this it? Is this my life?). The message is that you don’t have to accept who you are or what you are. The dice in the story is merely a plot device – the suggestions that Rhinehart feeds to it come from his own mind.
Imagine deciding that you’ll behave like a tycoon today. Imagine deciding not to be deferential to your boss at work. Imagine making a radical decision to change something that’s been eating away at your soul for years. Maybe it’s a marriage, maybe it’s a job, maybe it’s something else. The Dice Man proves that you can do it. It proves that there’s another you waiting to be let loose.
Bottom line? You’ve got to read this book.