Good luck, but no charm

The Dice Man

Luke Rhinehart is not content. His job as a psychiatrist is driving him crazy, at odds with his newly discovered Zen Buddhism. His marriage is a neurotic, classically 1970s mess, in which he uses tenets of his half-cocked religion to manoeuver his wife, passive-aggressively, into a state of dialectic impotence. He loves and yet does not love his children; he relates to the aspects of his patients he is most honour-bound to treat; and, like any privileged white middle-class male, he wants out of the terribly mundanity of his life. And so he discovers the die, and eventually dice, which at first inject a little playful randomness into his routine. But as the variety proves addictive Rhinehart finds himself using the dice to make more and more of his decisions, as he forces sex, violence and erratic eccentricities on others, and homelessness, poverty and loneliness on himself. As the dice become the pivot around which his entire life revolves, he meets an old patient, as borderline as himself, and has a sudden flash of inspiration: now he can share with the rest of the world the guiding principles of the Dice Man, one person at a time.

In Rhinehart the character, Rhinehart the author (George Cockcroft, pseudonymously) has written the most bizarre literary creation ever to exist outside Gallowglass or Tom Ripley. Rhinehart is meant to be simultaneously both the everyman and his own subversion, by starting off as a confused, directionless therapy-mensch and ultimately transforming himself into a destiny-filled, fate-directed übermensch, as the dice take hold of his life and strip him of the socio-cultural norms that have held him prisoner for so long. In reality, and partly in the language of his profession, Rhinehart is more akin to the casual neurotic who achieves transference from dull but safe (and creatively and morally fecund) society to arbitrary, irrelevant (and thus terrifyingly dangerous) amoral edicts. These then tear apart his sense of self and belonging, while bolstering his conviction that those very methods provide the quickest, wildest, most exciting route to enlightenment. Rhinehart is gathering speed on a downward slope towards his own oblivion, swaddled in the convictions that every step along it is a step towards salvation.

What's most surprising about The Dice Man is the banality with which its violence, arrogance and sheer wilful stupidity are presented. Rape and murder are treated as interesting experiments that Rhinehart the narrator conducts, rather than real, repugnant actions with real, reprehensible consequences, that cause real physical and mental damage to others. He hates women, other people, the simple everyday, and basic human relationships; he cannot deal with responsibility or any kind of repetition. Seeing himself as an iconoclast, he's really an irritable, attention-deficient fool; seeing himself as some sort of model Zen pupil drifting on the ebb and flow of the world's tide, he's really an agent of profound and dangerous activity.

Ultimately, the Dice Man's greatest hubris is that he has attempted to disguise all these quite wilful, intentional acts as consequences of a random, almost godlike agency that exists outside himself. But even the most fervent horoscope-follower or rune-caster has more simple empathy than the narrator, whose basic, psychopathic inability to comprehend the notion of other people's existences leaves him free to follow whatever silly ideas can enter his head, however ultimately idiotic or empty. His childish attempts to wish away his own humanity shock in the same way as a child's crimes shock, and should be treated accordingly. Compared to the psychological investigations of Kundera or Cockcroft's fellow travellers Pirsig and Kesey, this is the giggling, random swearing of the primary school.